Ben Howland, long known for his methodical halfcourt offenses, said he once used as many as 45 different sets.
In Saturday’s win at Stanford, the UCLA coach cut that number down to nine. After using around 18 to 20 for most of the season, he wanted to simplify the playbook even further for his young team coming off a quick turnaround.
Two days earlier, the Bruins had shot just 30.3 percent in the first half 76-63 loss at Cal. Against the Cardinal, UCLA shot 54.4 percent from the field.
“It’s all about execution and reading,” Howland said. “You have different reads: ‘If he trails me, I’m going to curl. If he goes ball side screen, I’m going to fade. If he fades, I have to shorten the pass. If he goes underneath, I have to re-screen.’”
Star freshman Shabazz Muhammad said during the first month of the season that fewer plays would benefit the team, a thought that junior forward Travis Wear echoed again Tuesday afternoon. Some of their teammates didn’t seem to care too much either way, or didn’t notice a significant difference.
“I came from a high school where we had 30 plays, and I’ve played for a coaches where we have two plays,” freshman Kyle Anderson said. “It doesn’t really matter.”
Added Jordan Adams, who scored 20 points on nine shots against the Cardinal: “I just go with what he calls. He’s calling it for a reason.”
This week, the Bruins used Monday and Tuesday’s practices to focus on non-contact five-on-five drills, emphasizing reads and screens to optimize options within a limited number of sets. Howland said the team has also started setting flat screens instead of angling screens to give point guard Larry Drew II a chance for a running start.
Drew ranks fifth on the team in scoring average (7.0), but poured in 26 points through his past two games on 9-of-16 shooting. The senior is far and away the conference leader in assist rate (35.4 percent), so opponents have been forcing him to shoot in order to limit UCLA’s offense.
“They still are, but they’re still making him prove himself and shoot,” Adams said. “He’s knocking them down now.”