Official UCLA statements on Josh Smith

Head coach Ben Howland: “Joshua is a fine young man who has meant a lot to this program. I know I speak for myself and my staff when I thank him for his time in Westwood and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Josh Smith: “I have made the decision to leave the program for personal reasons. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at UCLA and am grateful for the opportunity that has been presented to me here.”

This is a disappointing, if unsurprising end to Smith’s career. The junior center has to take the bulk for the blame for failing to get himself in shape, but what a mess Howland’s program has quickly become. Two transfers in four days? If players want to get away from you that badly, you probably won’t be around much longer either.

Freshman Tony Parker, who has averaged 8.4 minutes so far this season, will probably sop up some extra time on the court. He could probably double his playing time easily if it weren’t for the back spasms that have bothered him lately.

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Josh Smith leaving UCLA

UCLA center Josh Smith is transferring from UCLA, becoming the second Bruin to leave the program in less than a week.

According to BruinReportOnline, Smith told athletic director Dan Guerrero his decision Wednesday. The 6-foot-10 junior did not show up to practice Tuesday.

The once promising NBA prospect has struggled with weight after being named to the All-Pac-10 Freshman team. He reportedly was working to slim down over the offseason, but didn’t produce results — or look more svelte — when he stepped on the court. Through six games, he averaged 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.5 minutes. He averaged 10.9 points as a freshman and 9.9 as a sophomore.

His departure comes just three days after junior guard Tyler Lamb announced his intent to transfer. Lamb had played just 14 minutes this year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, scoring four points in the season opener against Indiana State.

The team now has just eight scholarship players on its roster. Smith and Lamb were also the only players who had played in old Pauley Pavilion.

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UCLA defense lacking effort, players say

Blowing an 18-point lead can be done. But to do so in eight minutes, against a team that had never before made the NCAA tournament? That takes a special kind of defensive nonchalance.

The general consensus among the Bruins two days after their 70-68 loss to Cal Poly was the team simply didn’t try hard enough. There were some factors with the youth adjusting to the college game and learning defensive principles, but the bottom line for everyone seemed to be effort.

“When teams run ball screens, sometimes they’ll switch them and sometimes we’ll trail it,” said freshman Jordan Adams. “Sometimes we’ll get confused. (We need to) just play harder. There’s no excuses. We need to play harder.”

Some players said more zone defense would be a good addition to the playbook, but Adams maintained that the team had the talent and athleticism to run a man defense properly. It all just comes down to — you guessed it — effort.

Point guard Larry Drew said that looking at film from the Cal Poly loss, it looked like players were putting more effort in on the offensive end than defensive — something many viewers likely picked up on during the first viewing.

Asked if that lack of effort traced back to practice, he agreed.

“Sure,” Drew said, sighing after a long pause. “I guess you could say that it starts in practice. I don’t think we had our best practices leading up to the prior game. You practice how you want to play and I think it showed.”

Some of this again points back to Howland. In addition to not having his talented players pushing themselves at the peak, he said that the Bruins haven’t been able to run fast enough because opposing teams are playing slow, patient basketball. When you allow unranked teams to dictate the pace, you’re probably not in a great place.

Wake-up call?

An overtime win against UC Irvine two weeks back should have snapped the Bruins into their expected selves. Then they lost to Cal Poly, which was picked to finish four spots behind the Anteaters in the Big West preseason poll. With one-loss Cal State Northridge coming up Wednesday night, UCLA players said that they’re not about to let up against another team from that conference.

“I think we took the team real lightly,” said freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who added that he was only about 80 percent of the way to full game shape. “Just really thought we won the game. You can’t come out like that, even when we’re playing teams that are not as talented as us.”

Added Adams: “This was a huge wakeup call. UCI almost upset us, but we were still in the same mode. This definitely was a wakeup call.”

He added that Muhammad’s recent return helped them brush off the close call against the Anteaters. Can’t use that excuse anymore.

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Larry Drew keeps TOs down, but needs to speak up

Ben Howland emphasized that, while he is still tinkering with lineups, Larry Drew II is the team’s starting point guard. The UCLA head coach pointed out Drew’s assist-to-turnover ratio — which is currently an exemplary 6.29.

The team’s lone senior is also leading the Pac-12 with 7.2 assists per game, and dished out nine without a single giveaway in the Cal Poly loss.

“Even though, we are playing more of an up-tempo style game, it definitely is a slower pace than I was playing at North Carolina,” Drew said. “Even back in high school, my game in general was never really a 100-mile-per-hour guy, up and down the court.

“Every possession, I like to slow down at times and see the floor. Read things and use my speed and change of direction. I’m just more comfortable within this offense.”

Howland added that Drew’s assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the best he’s seen through what his now his 10th season in Westwood. Given that Drew’s career average there is exactly 2.00, it won’t be surprising if he dips from his current pace.

The one criterion is also not the greatest indicator of point guard prowess. Jerime Anderson’s assist-to-turnover ratio last season was 2.33. Darren Collison’s in 2008-09 was 1.91. A year before that, Russell Westbrook’s was 1.74.

Howland did remark that Drew’s personality doesn’t have him harping on his teammates as much as he should — something the player is working to improve.

“I tell the coaches all the time. Whatever they want me to do, to just make sure that they stay on me about it,” Drew said. “If it’s something on the court, off the court, being a leader, being more vocal. I want to do whatever it’s going to take for us to grow as a team.”

Drew, the team’s lone senior, is also one of the team’s three captains, with David and Travis Wear being the two others. All three are UNC transfers. Take that as you will.

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Pac-12 title shot: “We earned it.”

How do the Bruins bounce back to play a team that just beat them 35-17? Jim Mora credits youth and short memories.

“The two games we’ve lost this year, we’ve been able to come back and get a good win,” Mora said today. “Not necessarily an easy win, but a good win. I think that’s given them confidence going forward. I don’t think It’ll be an issue. I think they’ll be amped up and ready to go.”

That assertion reinforces the mood many players have given throughout the week. Tight end Joseph Fauria seemed locked in in the postgame press conference on Saturday; when one reporter was halfway through a question about the Pac-12 Championship, Fauria cut in: “We earned it.”

This is a team that, by all appearances, believes in itself wholeheartedly. Stanford coach David Shaw said in a teleconference Monday that one of his biggest concerns is fighting off any complacency. Conversely, UCLA’s biggest task was to knock away self doubt. Just the simple lack of an asterisk on their Pac-12 South title should help ensure that the Bruins aren’t about to roll over at Stanford Stadium on Friday.

“Last year, it was hard to get hyped for that game because we knew we didn’t really earn it,” said UCLA receiver Shaq Evans. “SC beat us pretty bad the week before. They were the true Pac-12 South champions.”

“We earned this one,” said defensive end Datone Jones. “That’s the big difference. Football’s football and we’re ready to go.”

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Seven Bruins on All-Pac-12 first and second teams

You can find the full list here, but let’s run through UCLA’s selections. (The awards are voted on by Pac-12 head coaches.)

First team: LB Anthony Barr, OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, P Jeff Locke
Second team: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, DL Datone Jones, David Allen on special teams
Honorable mentions: DB Andrew Abbott, OL Jake Brendel, WR Shaq Evans, TE Joseph Fauria, QB Brett Hundley, LB Eric Kendricks, DL Cassius Marsh, RS Damien Thigpen

Franklin didn’t make first team despite becoming UCLA’s new career leading rusher, but that’s what happens when you play in the same conference as Kenjon Barner. The big snub here is sophomore Eric Kendricks, who was only an honorable mention despite leading the Pac-12 with 127 tackles for 10.6 per game. ASU’s second-teamer Brandon Magee was second with 9.5 per game (104 overall), but he did have 6.5 sacks to Kendricks’ two.

Eric isn’t as explosive as his brother Mychal, who won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last year, but has a very solid all-around game. He’ll likely be good in the NFL, even if he doesn’t absolutely wreck guys weekly like Anthony Barr.

UCLA got left out of the big conference awards (listed below), but no real issues with any of these picks. Jim Mora had a very good argument for Coach of the Year, but had the tough luck of reviving a program during in a year Stanford upset Oregon without Andrew Luck. Besides, Mora has the chance for a last laugh on Friday.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, USC
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, Arizona State
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, USC
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford

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Bruins leave pads off to start week

UCLA took practice a little easier on Monday. Usually a day off from morning sessions, the compressed week had the Bruins out on the field off a short turnaround — albeit without pads.

“I wanted them to be sharp Friday night,” said head coach Jim Mora. “Wanted them to be healthy, wanted them to be at max efficiency.”

Added defensive end Datone Jones: “I’m pretty sure the team we’re playing against went light contact too. It would be dumb for anyone to come out, knowing we have a big, physical game coming up. Our bodies haven’t fully recovered. That’s a 48-hour period, and we’ll be back in full pads. It’s important so someone doesn’t get hurt.”

Mora played coy on injuries, saying both Simon Goines (knee) and Steven Manfro (ankle) will be “good” and “fine” for Friday.

“What other answer do you expect?” Mora said, laughing.

Manfro has just eight carries for 70 yards this year and has seen more time at receiver and punt return, but with Damien Thigpen out (ACL), the Bruins could use him to spell Johnathan Franklin.

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UCLA falls out of AP poll

The Bruins, No. 11 a day ago, are no longer ranked, an unsurprising development given that they did blow an 18-point, second-half lead against Cal Poly and ending the new Pauley Pavilion winning streak at three. They still somehow held on to 85 AP votes as well as a No. 24 spot in the Coaches Poll — an indication that voters either aren’t watching games or are supremely confident in UCLA’s ability to turn things around.

The drop also appears to be the steepest fall out of the AP poll since Missouri fell from No. 9 in 2011 — but the Tigers slowly dipped out over the course of an entire season rather than a single week.

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Cal Poly 70, UCLA 68: What now?

UCLA was supposed to be a resurgent program this year, but even after just the season’s first five games, most could tell the Bruins were a work in progress. That’s no excuse for losing to a middling Big West team, however — especially not after holding an 18-point lead in the second half.

Quick thoughts moving forward:

Zone defense: Ben Howland said he only wanted to use it “once in a blue moon” earlier this week, but he’ll likely change his mind after the mess that unfolded at Pauley Pavilion Sunday night. He attributed the lapses to lack of athleticism, youth and lack of focus. The first two aren’t easy fixes. The last is a big knock on the coach, who doesn’t have any excuses after reeling in a recruiting class that was ranked either first or second in the nation, depending on where you looked. Players admitted that the effort was lackluster on the backend, especially after the team went on a huge 21-6 run to open the second half.

Howland said in Brooklyn that he wanted to reserve defensive scheme switches to when the team is getting gashed, as it did against Georgia. If the man defense doesn’t become more effective soon, well … No. 25 San Diego State is coming up in less than a week.

Offensive identity: The team is still struggling to mesh together its many disparate pieces. Shabazz Muhammad look out of sorts to start the game, shooting just 3 of 8 in the first half and making just one more shot in the second. He shot 4 of 13 overall, but still finished with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. He admitted he still needs time to find his way in the halfcourt attack, and expressed desire to run more transition basketball.

Kyle Anderson, who didn’t start the game as Howland tinkers with the lineup, took just two shots from the field and missed both. His one point came at the charity stripe, but he did add four assists, five boards, a block and two steals.

It’s a shame Jordan Adams hasn’t found more minutes in the backcourt logjam. He scored 13 points on 10 shots and nearly saved UCLA with a layup at 17 seconds.

A few telling quotes from the night (emphasis my own) …

From Ben Howland: “With 12 min to go, we had the ball up 18 and managed to lose the game.”

From Travis Wear: “We started making dumb plays.”

From Shabazz Muhammad: “It all comes down to rebounding. When it comes down to it, they got a lot of second chances. We got to buckle down and just want to rebound. We didn’t have any intensity out there on rebounding.”

… and “We didn’t play with heart at all on the defensive end.”

Extra note: Howland confirmed Lamb’s transfer was due to playing time. “He didn’t feel like he was going to be able to get the minutes that he wants. We support him and we wish him the very best.”

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Tyler Lamb announces intent to transfer

UCLA junior guard Tyler Lamb will transfer out after the fall quarter, the school announced Sunday morning. A local Mater Dei product, Lamb said he has not yet chosen a new collegiate destination.

Lamb is the latest example of a troubling trend within one of the country’s blue-blooded basketball programs: losing transfers. The more prominent departures include: Chace Stanback and Mike Moser, who averaged a combined 26.5 points and 14.9 rebounds for UNLV last season; Drew Gordon, who averaged 13.7 and 11.1 for New Mexico a year ago; and Matt Carlino, who became BYU’s staring point guard before recording a stat with UCLA.

“We are very sad to see Tyler leave our program,” head coach Ben Howland said in a statement. “He is a great kid, and we have really enjoyed having him play for UCLA. We fully support his decision, and we wish him all the best in the future.”

Lamb started in 32 of 33 games last year, averaging 9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists along the way. He was bumped out of the rotation this year by both health and new talent, playing in just one game after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in his left knee on Oct. 9. However, he wouldn’t have cracked the starting five even without the injury; the additions of Larry Drew II — who transferred from UNC — and freshmen Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams left Lamb to watch his playing time wither as he recovered.

“I would like to thank the University, Coach Howland and his staff for the unparalleled opportunity to have been a part of UCLA’s program,” Lamb said in a statement. “However, I believe that it is in my best interest to find a new destination where I can continue to grow, both as a person and as a basketball player. I am eternally grateful to my coaches and teammates for everything they have given me, and I wish them the best going forward.”

He is also one of several Mater Dei players to leave their original programs. Two players from his high school class, Gary Franklin and Keala King, are already on new teams. Franklin transferred from Cal to Baylor in 2011, while ASU dismissed King in January.

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