Embarrassed by Long Beach State

Just when you thought it was safe to believe UCLA was improving, it took a horrendous step backward, losing to Long Beach State in shocking decisive fashion, 79-68. What was most disturbing about the game: Long Beach State was clearly the better team...

Man, it was a long weekend for Bruin fans.

In fact, there hasn't been a weekend like this one ever in the combined history of UCLA football and basketball in the modern era.

UCLA's basketball team suffered a pretty decisive loss to a better Long Beach State team, 79-68, Sunday, having lost all three of its game in the 76 Classic.

Yep, that's what you read. A better Long Beach State team.

And it wasn't close.

The Bruins lost for the first time ever in its history to Long Beach State (having won the first 11 meetings dating back to 1970), after it lost for the first time ever to Cal State Fullerton a couple of weeks ago.

UCLA fans on the BRO message boards are arguing over which of UCLA's players are UCLA level.

Well, right now, no one on UCLA's roster is UCLA level.

After what looked to be a very large step backward against Portland, then taking what seemed like a surprising step forward in a good effort and performance against Butler, UCLA then took its biggest step backward so far against Long Beach State.

It's looking, though, UCLA only fared better against Butler because they aren't nearly as good as Portland or Long Beach State.

UCLA was bad in every facet of the Long Beach State game. Not only were there poor individual performances, UCLA team-wide played poorly and with a lack of effort. As soon as Long Beach State asserted itself toward the end of the second half, almost as if they were suddenly realizing that they were better than UCLA, the Bruins folded. The effort and energy level almost completely dissipated.

This is weird to say, but Long Beach State was clearly more athletic and more talented than UCLA.

As we wrote in our write-up after Butler, UCLA doesn't have much upperclass talent. Mike Roll is a UCLA-level player, a guy, though, who is probably a complementary player on any averagely talented Bruin team in any other year. Nikola Dragovic is just a good enough shooter to get you in trouble, because there isn't much else he can do consistently, and so far this season he's not even doing that consistently (shooting 25% from the field and 17% from beyond the three-point line). James Keefe just hasn't developed in terms of his skills -- not being able to finish under the basket, shoot consistently while still being a mediocre rebounder. He's also mentally still making essentially the same mistakes he made as a freshman – illegal screens, poor defensive rotations, etc.

Drew Gordon, up until this game, was probably the best surprise of the young season, averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds and displaying an improved post game and more discipline and maturity. But that quickly was abandoned in this game, with Gordon reverting back to immature mistakes and a lack of discipline. He got in quick foul trouble with some careless fouls and then mentally collapsed as a result. It's clear he still has a very long way to go.

Jerime Anderson did some things better in this game, playing more under control, and finding his teammates with good passes, finishes with 6 assists against just two turnovers (and he probably would have had quite a few more if his teammates could finish). But Anderson was absolutely torched in trying to guard Long Beach's Casper Ware. Again, it didn't seem like Ware even realized how easily and often he could get around Anderson until the second half, and then it was just about on every possession. If Anderson can't get better at staying in front of his defender he can't stay on the court for many minutes. The UCLA point guard staying in front of his defender is one of the biggest keys to Howland's defense, especially when UCLA's help defense is such a mess, and UCLA won't be able to beat anyone unless the situation improves.

When Malcolm Lee took over the responsibility of guarding Ware in the second half, he didn't do much better. Lee , though, is the only guy on the squad that has UCLA-level athleticism, but he's still very undisciplined and will tend to revert back to his out-of-control ways as soon as things start to break down, as they did in this game. If we're doing that any-other-year-for-UCLA thing, he'd also be coming off the bench until he was far more polished.

It's not even worth going through the freshmen. Reeves Nelson did play a solid 22 minutes, with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He was the only guy who physically could play with Long Beach's frontcourt, which is curious since Long Beach's frontcourt wasn't supposed to be big and strong but quick. He actually didn't match up in terms of quickness.

As a team, this was one of the poorest defensive performances in recent memory, and perhaps in the Howland era at UCLA. Between UCLA's poor senior defenders and its young guys who have no idea what they're doing, the Bruin defense was slow-footed and slow-minded. Long Beach did what Butler did, creating dribble penetration from ball screens, but did it quite a bit better, and then the screeners rolled to the basket for open lay-ups. Every one of UCLA's defenders – every one of them – were burned when they were confused over who to pick up on a screen and after a hedge. Then, when Long Beach State took the lead by the end of the first half by exploiting UCLA's befuddlement over screens, the 49ers realized they were quicker than the Bruins in just about every position and started merely taking their Bruin defenders off the dribble. They then discovered that the interior Bruin defenders were just as bad at providing help defense as they were picking up their man out of a screen. In other words, Long Beach State proved that there isn't just one element to UCLA's defense that is bad, it's all bad. Long Beach shot 53.6% for the game, and 64.3% in the second half.

The 49ers also got a heap of points in transition. UCLA tried to rotate its entire backcourt to counter any 49er transition and it worked for a while, until the Bruins decided to stop playing defense. Long Beach State then would get a defensive rebound, make an outlet pass and a 49er would take it uncontested to the basket with Bruins lazily watching.

But even while it was working when UCLA was getting back quickly, it was leaving only one UCLA player at the basket to get an offensive rebound. Not getting any offensive rebounds and no chance of a putback will tend to further hinder your already struggling offense.

But these are the kind of issues you confront when playing a better team.

Now, if you're the type that thinks UCLA should abandon any idea that they're going to salvage a decent season and do whatever it can to develop for the future then UCLA should continue to play its man defense. If UCLA keeps playing it, the Bruins will individually and as a team get better at it.

But, what's particularly curious is that Howland has never been a guy to play for the future, but to play for the present. Even though it's clear that he's stubborn about only playing his man defense, you would think that Howland, a guy who wants to do everything he can right now to win, would consider instituting a zone. His personnel is crying out for a zone. He doesn't have any team quickness to play a decent man defense. This team is more desperate for a zone than his first season at UCLA, when he did, in fact, use zone, however infrequently.

When discussing the issue of whether to play the younger guys and look toward the future, or play the more experienced guys, because they seemingly give you a better chance of winning, it's starting to become a moot point. It's looking more and more like playing Nelson increased minutes, and getting Brendan Lane more time at the four might very well give UCLA a better chance of winning now.

A point we made after the loss to Portland was: Will the damage of such a loss, and potentially more similar losses, be irreparable to the program? It's clear that UCLA is in for more substantial steps backward throughout this season and it definitely makes you wonder just how many embarrassing losses UCLA can suffer like this before the program is seen in a completely new light, rather than the one that went to three Final Fours.

Can one under-performing, dramatically horrendous year wipe out three years of Final Fours?

We seriously don't know the answer to that question. But it doesn't look like we have any choice but to find out this season.

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