Preparing for his team’s matchup with cross-town rival USC on Sunday night at the Galen Center, UCLA head coach Ben Howland said the short travel might be good for the team.
Certainly Pauley Pavilion did the Bruins no favors in the teams’ first matchup, as the Trojans scored their biggest win over UCLA in more than 60 years, heading back up the 101 Freeway with a 67-46 win.
“Sometimes I think when we’re at home, they want to get it going, they want to hit a shot to hear the roar of the crowd,” Howland said. “Being on the road where it’s us against the world really forces you to play good and smart as a team.”
Howland’s words did not resonate on Sunday.
Falling to the Trojans 68-64 to drop to 11-13 and 6-6 in Pac-10 play, UCLA shot just 39 percent from the field and committed 20 turnovers.
Unlike the teams’ first matchup, though, the Bruins could not blame it on the glass.
The Bruins dominated the boards, racking up 46 rebounds to USC’s 25, but they could not convert them into points.
And when the Trojans needed a rebound, Nikola Vucevic seemed to grab it.
“He’s playing tough – he’s so much bigger and stronger than he was a year ago as a freshman,” Howland said of Vucevic, who had eight rebounds to tie UCLA’s Malcolm Lee for the game-high. “He and Stevenson are the second and third leading offensive rebounders in the conference. He’s shooting the ball well, he’s playing extremely hard. In our first game against USC, whenever Nikola Dragovic set a screen on the ball, (Vucevic) switched to whatever perimeter player was there.”
The effort didn’t pay off early, at least on the stat sheet.
While the Trojans led UCLA 32-29 at the half, the Bruins owned a 25-11 rebounding advantage. It was in stark contrast to teams’ first game, when USC grabbed 37 rebounds to UCLA’s 22. Despite 30 missed shots, the Bruins managed just seven on the offensive end.
On Sunday, UCLA had 11 first-half offensive rebounds, with Honeycutt grabbing four and Nelson two.
“We are not a real good rebounding team,” Howland said. “That’s for sure. But I was surprised to see that the leader in our conference is only getting 2.5 more than their opponent. In our conference, typically if you’re going to advance and really do something in the NCAA tournament, you need a team that’s dominating on the boards.”
When the Bruins needed an offensive rebound the most, though, they couldn’t get one. When they needed a defensive board even more, again they couldn’t get it.
Down by five with just more than seven minutes left in the game, UCLA freshman forward Brendan Lane fouled USC sophomore forward Leonard Washington on the offensive glass, sending Washington to the free-throw line, then Vucevic tipped in Washington’s missed free-throw.
Howland understands that because of UCLA’s zone defense inefficiencies, his team will miss some rebounds.
He understands that he doesn’t have the most athletic bunch in the world.
He understands that he relies primarily on a pair of freshmen on the glass, guys who haven’t yet the tricks of the trade.
Sure, Howland knows it.
Those two rebounds, however, hurt.
“Part of it is we’re only sending two guys to the offensive glass because of how hard it is to get back into the zone – it’s harder to transition back to the zone than in the man,” Howland said. “Rather than kinda be in no man’s land, we stressed for them to get back on defense.”