Coming off a disappointing visit to the Big Apple, playing at Kansas is probably not UCLA head coach Ben Howland’s dream scenario.
The Bruins were torched on the perimeter in two losses to No. 7 Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth, and now they have to prepare for a three-headed monster in the post in Lawrence.
Kansas twins Marcus and Markieff Morris combine for 31.3 points – 19 per game from Marcus – and 15.6 rebounds per game, while teammate Thomas Robinson has been a force off the bench, averaging 10.7 points and six rebounds.
UCLA has learned, and learned quickly, that this is not the same Kansas squad as last season, miles apart from the Jayhawks that was ranked No. 1 last season when they defeated UCLA 73-61 at Pauley Pavilion, behind Markieff Morris’ game-high 19 points.
“They’re different; they don’t have that one dominant force in the middle,” sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said of Kansas, which employed massive center Cole Aldrich last season. “I know Robinson’s improved a lot, and so have the twins. They’re going to be really hard to guard because they’re so big and have great post moves.”
That could be a problem.
Defense has not been UCLA’s strong suit this season, and Howland has set out to fix it.
The team spent three hours breaking down the VCU game on Sunday, a day after returning from New York following Friday’s 89-85 loss to the Rams.
After, he showed the Bruins video clips of former defensive greats such as Aaron Afflalo and Luc Mbah-a-Moute.
“They just took more pride in the defense because they knew that by doing that, they could generate their offense,” said sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game. “That’s what coach was trying to show us. He wants to put an emphasis on transition, but at the same time, if you don’t get a lot of stops, you can’t transition.”
*A Foul Issue
Center Joshua Smith’s foul issues persisted in New York, as the 6-foot-10, 305-pound freshman picked up four more fouls against both Villanova and VCU, and he now has four fouls in all five UCLA games.
As a result, Smith hasn’t put up the big numbers expected of him early as he’s been relegated to just 16 minutes per game.
“We just talked about that earlier today, and he has a habit of reaching,” Howland said. “He has to play with his feet set. Some of it, he has to get in better condition so that he doesn’t play fatigued. But he had some bad calls go against him, and I made it clear – the biggest guy always seems to be singled out. He had a terrible call in the Villanova game, he was clearly there for a charge, and the guy ran him right over.”
Howland also mentioned that Smith was brutalized on the glass, pointing out that a VCU guard wrapped his arms around him when he was setting up for a rebound, with no call coming.
“You can’t allow guys to do that,” Howland said. “If they’re going to do that, you have to get them off you. Shaq learned. All these big guys learn.”
*Gimmicks? Who needs a gimmick?
UCLA’s matchup with Kansas is its last game as part of the Pac-10/Big-12 Hardwood series.
Howland isn’t sad about that fact.
“UCLA doesn’t need any kind of scheduling gimmicks to help us get good games against people,” Howland said. “Good teams want to play us. (The series has) helped other teams in our league get BCS-teams on the schedule for a home-and-home. It’s not something we need help with.”
*Bumps and Bruises
Freshman guard Matt Carlino is fully recovered from an early season concussion, though Howland didn’t think it prudent to rush him back into action for the NIT trip.
“He’s practiced the last two days, and he’s getting back into things,” Howland said. “I didn’t use him in New York because he had one practice in two weeks. But after we came back Saturday he shot around and did some conditioning.”