A few thoughts…

* A lot of people said that the UCLA v. Washington game on Dec. 31 was a revealing game, but the real revelation was in the Bruins’ loss to USC on Sunday night. And the revelation is a scary one for UCLA fans: This team is just nowhere near mature enough to consistently play at a high level.
I’m talking mature in both emotions and physical ability, because the Bruins lacked both on Sunday.
In the second half when UCLA faced any adversity from USC, it caved. Simply caved. Blame the coaches, blame the players, blame whoever. There’s enough to go around. Ultimately, it lies with Ben Howland as the architect of the program, but he’s not on the court. He can’t will Tyler Honeycutt to box out Alex Stephenson on an absolutely crucial offensive rebound and put-back. He can’t jump inside Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee and get them to penetrate to the basket. He can’t defend for Joshua Smith, who doesn’t seem able to defend for himself at times.

* Back to maturity, and we’ll start with emotional maturity.
UCLA beat writers have written ad nauseum about the team lacking a senior, much less a senior leader, but the point is still valid. This team has no one, not a single player, who commands the huddle, who rises above and wills the team to follow him.
I thought Tyler Honeycutt could become that even as a sophomore, but he has not shown that instinct yet. Malcolm Lee doesn’t appear to be the vocal type. Reeves Nelson’s issues have been well-documented, but I also think they’ve been blown out of proportion, and he gets too much blame for his “attitude.” Zeke Jones is still fighting the uphill battle of being a relatively lightly heralded junior college transfer, and his backup, Jerime Anderson, still can’t get over the hump.
With a coach like Ben Howland, there needs to be at least one or two guys – and in the past, there were a lot more than one or two – who can get in a huddle and take control. Howland is a demanding coach to play for, but a coach can only say or do so much; he needs a player who commands as much respect as he does, and he does not have that now.

* And on to physical maturity, which is becoming evident.
As I wrote about the UCLA football team this year so often, this basketball team lacks savvy. Basketball so often is a game of nuance, particularly when two teams are matched up well in terms of talent.
I can’t count how many times the Bruins were out of position for rebounds, terribly behind on defensive rotations and a step slow on offense.
Smith may get called for some ludicrous fouls, but he also picks up one or two per game that are just baffling. Brendan Lane may some day learn how to seal off a defender or get open, but he just doesn’t now. Even guys like Honeycutt and Nelson, who are perhaps the two craftiest players on the team, don’t have the know-how of a Vucevic or an Alex Stephenson.
Then there’s Malcolm Lee, who has regressed tremendously this season. I think Lee is expending much too much energy on defense, but with so many defensive issues on the team, he sort of has to. Problem is, his offensive skill set has taken a step back, it seems. He scored just five point against the Trojans, and in UCLA’s five biggest games this season – against Villanova, Kansas, BYU, Washington and USC – Lee has scored 43 points, or about 8.5 per game. In the Bruins’ other nine games, he’s averaging 14.2 ppg.
He just could not drive to the basket against the Trojans, who were saddled with backcourt foul trouble that went unpunished. I remember him driving right into the defense last season, with courage, albeit sometimes reckless abandon. None on Sunday.

* Howland had curious rotation patterns during the game, and at one point, the Bruins had a lineup out there that was about as threatening as bunnies on morphine. In the second half, with UCLA only down 36-34, Howland fielded a lineup of Jerime Anderson, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt, Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover. So you have the most passive point guard on the team, paired with perhaps the most offensively passive power forward in college basketball, paired with perhaps the most offensively passive center in college basketball. And, on a night when Honeycutt had no touch and Lee couldn’t get to the basket.
Shortly after, UCLA was down 45-37 and would get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
I understand that a combination of foul trouble, Jones’ finger injury and Nelson’s rest put that group on the court, but that just can’t happen. Pull Nelson and Smith, fine, but then you have to have Jones in, who’s often looking to score. Pull Jones and Smith, but leave Nelson in there to demand the ball and take it to the hoop.
Just don’t leave 40 percent offense on the floor when USC is pulling away.

* UCLA is 23-24 in its last one-and-a-half seasons, after a 123-26 record over the previous four. There is obviously time to right the ship, it’s only three games into the conference season, after all, but this is a perilous time for the Bruins. Sunday’s loss was the fourth straight for UCLA against USC, and that’s with the Trojans undergoing some turmoil of their own the last couple of years.
There is no easy fix to what plagues the Bruins, but something needs to change.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email
  • Anonymous

    Leadership – or lack thereof.

    Its kind of sad when it seems to me that the leader on the court is our new JC transfer Zeke Jones. In fact, except on fast breaks with Reeves, and a rare moment from either Lee Lamb or Anderson, I don’t think our team can really dribble the ball! Honeycutt usually passes as does Smith (when many times Smith would do better attacking the basket). Agree that Lee seems to have regressed on offense. I thought he was hampered by having to be the ball handler last year, but for some reason, maybe it affected his ability to move without the ball and so he seems to be suffering greatly this year…

  • glawson07

    I think you can call it what you want, but the Bruins were dooned with no outside shot. USC was pretty good defensively, but we just could not get outside shooting. I thought too much emphasis on going inside and not enough from outside. Smith is a great freshman, but still needs more moves on the post. The Bruins looked a bit out of sync offensively at times. Zeke’s shooting has really hurt the team. USC packed it in and that was it. JA had a pretty good game. It’s not just Reeves that plays emotionally, it’s the whole team.

  • BruinGuy

    I’m as disappointed in that game as anyone else who regularly reads this blog, but before I declare all hope is lost like Jon has, I’d like to see how UCLA fares against the likes of the Oregon schools, Bay area schools and Arizona schools. I always hate to admit it, but it just might be the case that USC is pretty good this year. After all, they beat Wash State (like we did), and played Washington pretty close (overtime I believe). It just might be the case that Wash, USC and UCLA are the three top teams in the Pac-10 this year…

  • DixieTrojan

    USC runs this town!

  • Trojan 70

    USC owns and runs this town!! You folks don’t have a clue. Your results speak for themselves. Fight On! Were is Bruin Rob now?

  • Anonymous

    USC doesn’ own and run this town. Pretty brave of trojan fans to only come and post when they win a game. When you win NCAA Championship come back. Otherwise your team hasn’t won anything.

  • cv

    Good thing the players dedicated the season to JW.

  • Anonymous

    If that was the case how come the UCLA women’s team clobbered your team? Why is it UCLA has more NCAA Championships than your school? You own the town alright.

  • Trojan 70

    Anonymous – do you have a job? Who has more men’s NCAA championships? If it wasn’t for woman’s athletics you wouldn’t have anything to talk about. When they win “A” game? Four straight I believe in BB. Ten out of eleven FB I believe. That’s OK, you did win the gal’s game. Congratulations. When is the woman’s ping pong match? I am sure you will be heavily favored.

  • kelphus

    guys guys guys… this is upsetting.. traditionally USC owned football and sucked at basketball… and UCLA was the converse…

    Now if USC owns basketball, even if for a short time, it will upset the natural order of things. The balance of nature will be thrown off. Toilets will start swirling backwards, possums will start to successfully avoid automobiles, and Lohan will sober up.

  • Cliff

    Very Disappointing Loss…

  • UCLA Dynasty

    The administration needs to realize that when we turn in games like last night, we all suffer from boorish Trogan comments in our schools and offices like the ones above. WE MUST STOP THIS NONSENSE IN FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL. We are the better school and we have the better athletic heritage and yet we can’t seem to field teams that live up to it.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    Jon, I like your thoughts. Your best piece oof work IMO.

    I, too, had the unfortunate ‘honor’ of watching that game live last night. The defensive rotation was HORRIBLE. Boxing out? DIDN’T happen. Outside shooting? Pffff.

    However, despite being 0 for 5? in 3′s at half, we were up two. SC had a hard time defending us inside in the first half WHEN we got the ball down low.

    At the beginning of the 2nd half, UCLA picked up 4 ticky tack fouls in about 2.5 minutes and it was GAME OVER. This team did not have the composure to overcome. Instead, Reeves pouted and decided NOT to play defense. Honeycutt tried to force the action, and we wilted — not under the pressure of SUC — but our own lack of maturity.

    This was a winable game, but the wheels came off by the 17:30 mark of the 2nd half.

  • Coach Thom

    When does women’s softball and men’s baseball start? My hopes are riding high with them this year.

  • cedar_23

    Jon, the truth hurts, but it needs to be said, well done.

  • Anonymous

    UB, that was a perfect description of what happened. $UC is not a good team this year. Are they better than most of the Pac-10? Sure. But that’s saying very, very little. Immediately after those questionable fouls at the beginning of the second half, the wheels flew off and the game was over.

  • UCLArt

    Like UB, I had endured two of the most unpleasant hours at the Galon Center last night. The Trogans were ready to play from before opening tip-off, while our team looked as if they were warming up for an intramural scrimmage.

    As Jon correctly states, this team is emotionally immature. Nelson has to stop his little-girl pouting and Honeycutt needs to prove the hype surrounding him (one game vs. Kansas does make you a legend).

    Howland needs to stress defense and rebound and have their offense come from the transition game. Smith is a beast, but he’s been in foul trouble all season.

    I hope this loss is wake-up call to the team.

  • BruinFaithful

    WOW Jon,

    Sounds like you changed your opinion significantly from last night’s chat.

    I said it months ago. Howland’s days are numbered. He will soon crumble under the pressure and bail out.

  • Kenny H.

    I think his days are numbered. It all started with players transfering. If only one or 2 plyers had left, I would have said they are bad apples but we have players bailing left and right. There is a reason it is happening and its not the players. The varible in this is the players leaving and ben howland is the constant. And the argument that we have no leaders, I don’t buy. One and dones are a reality yet teams like Kentucky keep rolling.

  • l.a. steve

    One imagines a Ben Howland Locker Room as a Locker Room where players talk about Defensive things. Players joke about steals, charges, how one guy stopped another guy going to the basket,or how poorly one guy shot because of so and so. One imagines an interview with a Ben Howland player beginning with his need for defensive improvement. In Jon’s interviews with the players before the season, did anyone notice any players mentioning playing man to man defense, or working
    on help side defense, on ball defense, or learning how to play better interior prevention defense, or foot speed in the off-season. It was strange to me, given who the coach is and what the record was last year, to hear Reeves Nelson talking about working on his outside shot in the off season.

  • ARZBruin58

    I can not see how few commentors understand you can not compete in a league like the Pac 10 with a total of 9 scholarship players. In todays teams, you need every one of your free rides to be able to play a strong part of your game. In fact, your walk-ons should be good enough to at least contribute one or two players to a few minutes in every game.

    We do not even have all our free rides playing significant time. If you have 1 or 2 redshirts each year amoung your scholarship player, you are going to have a short bench.

    We were out energed in the second half without enough players being rested during the stretch.

    As we sat watching the game, I told my wife that winning the game was going to be the result of how the refs called the fouls in the second half. When Smith and Nelson got 3 fouls in a row, I told her that the game was over. Every loss this year was a ref or two taking the game over for the home team, and a few at Pauley.

  • BruinFaithful

    ARZBruin58:

    A league like the Pac 10? You serious? This is the thinnest the Pac has been in ages. I think there are what? 3 Seniors total in the whole league. We have ONE Top 25 ranked team for god sakes. When was the last time that happened? We have a bunch of young coaches. I would say the League has never been riper for a team to dominate.

    You can spin it ANYWAY you want to, but exactly who’s fault is the Scholarship situation huh? The Alumni? Dan Guerrero’s? We had 10 Scholarship players when the year started, then guess what happened? He also drove 2 players away last year and on and on.

    We have enough minutes to go around, but Ben has a knack for overplaying his starters.

    Now it’s the Refs? Really?

    How much energy does it take to play fundamental BB? To box out?

    You may sound savvy talking BB to your Wifey, but you can’t bring that weak stuff in here.

  • derek

    A few points:

    1) Howland has clearly lost the team. They don’t listen to him and don’t care what he has to say.

    2) In howland’s previous teams, his players got bigger and stronger each year. Lee, Anderson, Honeycutt all still look straight out of high school. No weight room work to get stronger, or at least if they are, it isn’t working.

    3) Howland is not putting Smith in a position to succeed. Whether it is making him gaurd the other teams best defense players, insisting on a defense that doesn’t use a zone, or not pleading his case with the refs when Smith gets his two bad calls a game, he just isn’t doing anything for the kid.

  • Vu

    how can you have senior leadership when all the good players bolt in their second or third years (or heck, after their first year)???