All in all, it might have been UCLA's best 11-minute stretch of the entire season.
But that followed perhaps one of its worst 29 minutes.
Witih about 11 minutes to go in the game, the Bruins were down 54-46, two of its starters were in foul trouble and most of its younger players were struggling. It looked pretty bleak.
But the team settled down, Ben Howland did a good job of coaching, and UCLA went on a 29-7 run to decisively take over the game.
What changed? It's not complicated. UCLA started getting stops on defense, and started executing well on offense.
What's tough to understand, though, is why the Bruins couldn't play like that for the other 29 minutes. Or at least a majority of the game.
I guess you just have to chalk it up to the randomness of sports, and the steps forward and backward that will make up the development of a young team.
But we're here to over-analyze it, so here we go.
It's probably not coincidental that the team starting playing well when point guard Jerime Anderson did. Anderson subbed in at just about the 11-minute mark and his play for the next 11 minutes was easily his best of the season. If he played like that most of the time, UCLA would probably be a pretty good team. It's not necessarily fair to him to put the weight of the team's fate on his shoulders, but that is the burden you carry when you decide to be a point guard, the most important position on the court.
In that time, he had 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists against just 1 turnover. He was 3 of 4 from the free-throw line.
He suddenly had a boost of confidence when he came back on the court from the bench, and played with forcefulness and assertiveness. He drove into the lane strongly for an under-control pull-up jumper. He drove again a couple of minutes later and was fouled. He then dealt out a couple of beautiful assists to Reeves Nelson, one an under-handed scoop shot that found Nelson momentarily unguarded as he was rolling to the basket for a dunk. He then drove to the basket and was fouled, and coolly made both free throws. He then had two strong defensive rebounds and finished off the game with another nice assist to Nikola Dragovic for a lay-up.
Whatever the heck Anderson drank on the sideline before he subbed in he needs to drink all the time. It was probably Confidence-Ade, because he clearly had more of as he drove to the basket to create for himself and his teammates. Anderson ended with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists against 5 turnovers.
It also helped that Dragovic had a good 11-minute stretch since he also had played fairly poorly up until that point. After not shooting well to start the game, and not even looking for his shot, he went 4 for 5 in the last quarter of the game, posting up to score and then hitting a wide-open three at about 9:30 to bring the Bruins to within a basket at 55-53. The shot was so wide open and Dragovic had so much time, just about every Bruin fan in the building had to be saying to themselves, "Okay, if he doesn't make this one…" Again, Dragovic got his scoring going by posting up, and also converted on 5 of 5 free throws. He had 12 of his team-high 17 points in that stretch, and also finished with 7 rebounds.
Offensively during that stretch, UCLA executed its offense well, and Anderson dished for easy baskets. The Bruins also forced fouls, went to the free-throw line and made their free throws.
UCLA shot a miraculous 78% from the free-throw line for the game.
Defensively during that stretch they looked like they finally were comfortable in knowing their assignments, which enabled them to play confidently. The Bruins went on a defensive run where it got stops in 6 of 7 CSU possessions, creating three turnovers in an 8-minute stretch and not allowing the Rams a good outside look at the basket while also contesting everything in the paint.
Lee was primarily responsible for guarding CSU's ball-handler, Dorian Green, and he kept him to 8 points, 0 assists and 2 turnovers. Because of Lee's good on-ball D, there was a marked reduction in penetration compared to other games, which limited the Rams' easy opportunities. It's something to consider for the future – putting Lee on the opposition's primary ball-handler, even if that means Anderson will have to defend bigger – but slower – guards, which he matches up with better because of his length. So much of Howland's defense is based on ball pressure on the opposing point guard to disrupt his execution and this could very well be a solution in many specific personnel match-ups this season.
Give Roll some credit for playing a solid game since he was still recovering from the stomach flu. He's getting more and more automatic from three, just being able to catch and shoot from just about any spot on the floor. And when he gets into the lane it's one of those things where you completely trust he's going to make his pull-up jumper.
In the first half (and the first 10 minutes of the second half), Anderson and Lee, as the primary ball-handlers, were particularly sloppy, turning over the ball in the half-court and most unfortunately in transition. If UCLA has the chance of getting some transition points and boost its offensive output, it's a shame that those chances are squandered, and Anderson and Lee did so with costly turnovers in the first half. Anderson fed Nelson, his post player, the ball on the break, which is a no-no to do if you're a point guard. He also had a careless turnover in over-penetrating in transition and then trying to kick it back out. Lee, who committed 6 turnovers, made quite a few errant passes and some questionable decisions handling the ball.
Tyler Honeycutt, as freshman will do, struggled, going scoreless in 12 minutes and getting just 2 rebounds.
Brendan Lane, however, provided 9 very solid minutes, with four points and five rebounds. He ran the baseline for a big rebound and putback, and had some pretty timely rebounds. He, though, is subject to a quick Howland hook; He had been playing well, but let one guy go around him on defense and got taken out.
Howland, though, did manage his personnel and fouls well down the stretch. With Roll in foul trouble, in the last few minutes of the second half, Howland subbed Honeycutt in on every defensive possession for Roll, to minimize the chances of him picking up his fifth foul. Howland, though, did play Lee for 39 minutes after he said this week he was going to use Mike Moser more off the bench to give his starters a rest. Moser didn't play.
It was perhaps UCLA's best team rebounding effort, out-rebounding CSU, 34-26. Dragovic, when he's not shooting well and not putting in much of an effort on defense, is at least a consistent defensive rebounder. Nelson's physicality alone creates rebounds for the team. It's easy to see that Lane will be a good rebounder as he gets stronger with his length and natural, effortless knack for it.
Colorado State, admittedly, isn't very good. It's why UCLA's poor play for the first 30 minutes was so agonizing. The 12 turnovers in the first half, too, were almost inexplicable since it wasn't really a case of CSU forcing UCLA into mistakes but rather UCLA being sped up and forcing themselves into mistakes.
After the last loss to Notre Dame, we said that UCLA fans are trying to find reasons to hang in there on the season. The Bruins probably won't play as well the rest of the season as they did in the last 11 minutes of this game, but the prospect of the team playing a majority of the minutes in a game with that kidn of effectiveness is something to hope for.