After the first half of the Delaware State game it appeared the Bruins were going to deliver it.
But UCLA lost focus and energy in the second half and played poorly. They still beat Delaware State, 66-49, but the second half wasn't exactly an encouraging spring board from which to launch the Pac-10 season.
I hate to repeat the analogy, but it was a case of a step forward and a step backward -- in the same game.
In the first half, UCLA was up 38-19, having held DSU to 30% shooting and having committed only 3 turnovers. UCLA shot 53% from the field itself. They were hustling, showing energy on defense and focus on offense.
It really didn't happen until about 10 minutes into the second half. Just like UCLA had 11 magical minutes against Colorado State, they essentially had 11 un-magical ones against Delaware State to finish the game.
As we said even before the season, the way Jerime Anderson goes, so goes the team, and this game was no exception. In the first half he was close to flawless, scoring 4 points, with 2 rebounds and, most importantly, 5 assists with no turnovers, and two steals, while playing solid defense on the smaller and quicker Jay Threatt, holding him to 2 points.
Anderson came out in the second half and turned over the ball the very first time he touched it, which wasn't a good sign. He had one of his worst halves, with 0 points, and 1 assist against 6 turnovers (he did, though, get 4 more steals).
As Anderson lost focus and effort so did the Bruins. UCLA had 10 turnovers in the second half.
Despite playing sloppily on offense to start the second half, UCLA's defense was still effective, and UCLA ballooned the lead to 29 points at the 13-minute mark. Even though UCLA hadn't looked as slick in the first 7 minutes of the second half as it did in the first half, they were still playing fairly well, and only needed to hold it together for the last 13 minutes.
But it kind of fell apart. Over the course of the next three minutes, DSU went on a 8-0 run, mostly because of UCLA's complete letdown on both ends of the floor. One UCLA fan was heard screaming, "Helloo Bruins! Game isn't over yet!"
But for UCLA, it seemingly was.
It's a shame, too, because there were some positives to take from this game. Many Bruins fans might think that the win was a good one, and you could make that case; but the lousy last 13 minutes definitely tainted the game, especially with that being the last taste in your mouth as UCLA heads into the Pac-10.
Easily the most encouraging individual performance was Reeve Nelson's career-high 21 points in just 28 minutes. As BRO said in its game preview, Nelson would have quite an advantage against DSU, and he certainly exploited it, being able to muscle his way to the basket with a fair amount of ease against DSU's smaller post defenders. J'mison Morgan, also, had one of his best games as a Bruin, in 10 minutes putting up 5 points and getting 4 rebounds.
Other than Nelson, though, no Bruin had a very good offensive night. UCLA's two leading scorers, Malcolm Lee and Michael Roll, were pretty quiet, finishing with 7 and 2 points. Both of them took just 7 shots each, with Roll making just one. The two of them didn't play particularly poorly, with three assists each against just one turnover, but they didn't look to score as much as they had been recently. They both definitely didn't attempt to get into the lane. Delaware State utilized both a man and zone defense, seemingly mostly a man, with some pretty good-sized seams available. But it appeared that UCLA's recognized the mis-match inside and focused on getting its centers the ball. Also, DSU extended its man defense on Roll and Lee and tried to take them out of the game offensively, which they pretty much did.
Nikola Dragovic, despite scoring 11 points, had a pretty dreadful game. We could laundry list the many things he did poorly, on the majority of UCLA's offensive and defensive possessions. He only scored on lay-ups created by his teammates' assists, or free throws; he missed every other shot he took from beyond 3 feet, and actually missed a couple of lay-ups, too, that were barely contested. Usually, at least, he rebounds well, but he didn't even do that in this one. To start the game, Dragovic on a break missed a teammate on a sloppy behind-the-back pass, had a couple of more bad passes and poor defensive trips, but he inexplicably stayed in the game. In the second half, Dragovic missed a wide-open three, and then drove the lane and tried to go up for a flashy one-handed dunk and was easily called for a charge. A couple of minutes later, Howland did, in fact, pull Dragovic and his back-up, freshman Brendan Lane, came into the game and immediately hit a three-pointer.
It seemed like an obvious message from the basketball gods.
Lane played a very encouraging 14 minutes, getting five points and 1 rebound (even though it seemed like he got a couple more), with two assists and 3 blocks. He was better defensively, which probably kept him on the floor longer, and he looked far more comfortable in the flow of the offense, setting screens without obviously having to think about it. He does, though, still look a bit tentative – but if this is tentative we're looking forward to when he can play without thinking.
Perhaps the most encouraging individual performance behind Nelson's was that of Tyler Honeycutt, who finished with 11 points, four rebounds and 2 assists in the most minutes he's played in a game, 27. Honeycutt is still getting comfortable, at times, still a mili-second slow in recognizing the cutter with one of his instinctive passes, but he's getting closer. In fact, at times, it seems like Honeycutt is the only one on the court that has the vision to see a scoring opportunity and his teammates are running around with blinders on, which sometimes leads to an errant pass or broken play. But in a few-minute sequence in the first half, Honeycutt made a nice floater in the lane, then a couple of minutes later, went up high on the defensive end with that great rebounding ability, brought down the board, led the break and made a fundamentally perfect pass. He also hit the first three-pointer of his career to end the first half.
As we said in a recent game review, one of the biggest curiosities of the season will be how the minutes are given out by the end of the season, and the play of Honeycutt and Lane in this game seemed to force that issue even more.
It was a bit of a strange game in terms of the feel of it. Delaware State tried to slow down the game, use its shot clock on mostly every possession, which really allowed UCLA to get its defense set in the first half and worked against DSU. Then, in the second half, DSU's press disrupted UCLA some, creating some turnovers, and that actually worked to speed up UCLA a bit, which is what opponents actually should do to get the mostly inexperienced Bruins to play sloppily. Once UCLA got too loose, it also then seemed to lose its focus and energy.
Even though fans would love it, and UCLA would surely benefit from some transition points, UCLA is not a greatly effective fast-breaking team. Anderson hasn't shown yet he can consistently make a good decision running the break; Roll, despite his many strengths, is not a great finisher; and overall UCLA doesn't seem to have the athletes who can go up strong, with many shots (a few on breaks) blocked cleanly by DSU in this game.
It was so close to being a game that would have given the UCLA fan some clear encouragement going into Pac-10 play. But, like it's been this entire season, UCLA has made advancements in starts and stops, and this game was another indication of that.
Ready or not, here comes the Pac-10.