The 83-60 final score in UCLA’s exhibition over Cal State San Marcos belies the the ugly game that took place at Pauley Pavilion Tuesday night, one filled with a generously listed crowd of 4,174.
Not only are the Cougars an NAIA program, they are one that has existed for less than two years. Consider also that they shot an atrocious 6 of 17 from the free throw line — a showing that helped UCLA slowly open a double-digit gap after leading by one midway through the first half.
Ben Howland used the game as a practice session for his man defense, which he had abandoned after the Cal Poly upset. He even asked CSUSM coach Jim Saia — a former UCLA assistant — to have to Cougars play man the entire 40 minutes as well. If the visitors hadn’t missed both open threes and open looks in the paint, the Bruins might have actually had a game on their hands.
Asked what exactly is wrong with the team’s man defense — which he called a “work in progress” — Howland did not provide an encouraging answer.
“Just basic things,” he said. “Basic fundamentals. Jumping to the ball every time your man makes a pass. Being in a good stance both on and off the ball. Playing better post defense.”
UCLA is not an overly athletic team, as Howland himself has pointed out often this year. Inject youth into that mix, and the result is a squad that has often looked clueless against less-than-stellar competition.
In the each of the past two years, the Bruins ranked third in the conference in scoring defense. Eight games into this season, an admittedly small sample size, they are ninth.
“We need to stop the lapses in the defense,” forward David Wear said. “We need better trailing and help-side defense. That will come. A couple more practices, and I think we’ll really see improvements in our man-to-man defense.”
Wear added that a zone defense won’t be sustainable against better teams like Texas, Missouri, and other Pac-12 squads. A scheme that had worked against Cal State Northridge last Wednesday was exposed against San Diego State, which shot 6 of 12 from long range in the second half of a 78-69 win.
Perhaps most unsettling is that UCLA can’t stick to a consistent defensive philosophy. Howland is a man-defense coach, and gets frustrated when he must resort to zone in order to win games. On the other hand, with the Bruins can’t afford to stick with zone — their better defense so far — if they simply get drilled by any good 3-point-shooting team.
“It makes it a lot harder,” freshman Kyle Anderson said. “We haven’t found our niche. Whatever Coach Howland plans on doing, we have to get good enough at it. … Whatever he calls out, that’s what we’ve got to perfect.”
Shaping up: Howland said this week that Shabazz Muhammad won’t be in peak game shape until January. He scored a game-high 19 points against the Cougars. Fellow freshman Tony Parker has battled back spasms and a sprained ankle this season, missing two entire games and all but one minute of a third. He turned the ball over four times in 20 minutes Tuesday night, but did grab eight rebounds — second in the game behind Anderson’s 16.