Ben Ball Roundup: Opportunity Lost

Here at BN, we've never been believers in "moral victories". While there were a lot of positives to take away from the game, and some good signs to point to going forward, a loss is still a loss, and this one to Kansas drops the Bruins to .500 six games into the season. Looking forward, the only remaining chance UCLA has to gain an impressive nonconference win is against BYU in a couple of weeks in the Wooden Classic, and that is cause for concern. It isn't likely that our conference schedule will be impressing anyone. As an example of conference strength (or lack thereof), the Pac 10 is down 0-4 in the Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Series. Also consider this: The Pac 10's premier win as a conference is probably Cal's victory over then #20 and now unranked Temple. That's the same team that put up 5 points in an entire half against Notre Dame. It's safe to say that the conference will not get respect when it's time to fill out the brackets, nor will it deserve it at this rate.

That's part of what makes this a frustrating loss. Not only would a win have strongly bolstered our own resume, but would have helped the battered reputation of our conference, which would then help us out again.

Let's get to what everyone nationwide is talking about: The foul call. Gary Parrish has the money quote from Tyler Honeycutt:

"That's like one of the worst ways to lose," said UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt. "I'd rather somebody make a half-court shot than to call a foul. As refs you're supposed to just let that go. We've been playing our heart out all night. You got to let us get on to overtime and finish that game."

I think the important thing to remember is what TH said about overtime. We hear about letting the players play all the time. About how refs don't want to be the deciding factor in games. Those axioms generally apply when one team has possession and is looking to tie or take the lead. Not only would a no call have truly allowed the players to decide with five more minutes of game time, but neither team had possession. Players can and should fight for loose balls.

ESPNLosAngeles got CBH's take. He was understandably not pleased:

"That was a really, really a poor way to end the game on a call," Howland said. "Just for anybody that hasn't seen it. It's a loose ball, both 23, Little and Malcolm Lee are putting their hand on the ball at the same time, with 0.9 seconds.

As I mentioned in the postgame thread, I don't want anything here to be interpreted as trying to pin blame on KU or their fans. Quotes from Coach Self and KU guard Tyrel Reed only helped reinforce my initial impressions:

"I don't know if I like it," Reed said. "But it happened."

Asked if Kansas had gotten away with a "lucky win," Self said, "Oh yeah, [UCLA] outplayed us, and that's evident."

And while I appreciate the sentiment from Coach Self, I think that sells his own team short. I saw a scrappy Jayhawk team that defended their homecourt well. If not for a barrage of missed free throws (14) from them, we're not even talking about this right now. 

So, that's enough regret for one roundup. Remember those "positive signs" I was talking about earlier? Let's get to it.

I don't know if you all have noticed, but Tyler Honeycutt is a pretty good player. Against Kansas, he had, hands down, his best game as a Bruin, pouring in 33 points on 11-15 shooting, including 5-6 on 3 pointers, 2 of which turned into four point plays. What is funny to me is that for all the chatter about running and playing uptempo, this game, where we were mostly playing halfcourt, was likely our best and most balanced offensive game this season. I recall three of TH's 3 pointers coming off of that double baseline back screen that Arron Afflalo used to run to perfection. This is the game that showed why so many of us have been frustrated by TH's play thus far this season. It was always clear that he had the skills to dominate games as he did tonight, but he always seemed to lack the aggression and drive to do it. It's only one game, but we need a more selfish Honeycutt if this team is going to enjoy success.

Speaking of selfish, Reeves Nelson had a rather quiet game offensively. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that he was playing further out on the floor than he has been this season due to Joshua Smith playing 28 minutes. This allowed Reeves to face up to the basket, but I swear someone needs to check his peripheral vision because once he starts that drive, everyone else might as well get into rebounding position. It's like he doesn't see that the help defenders are coming over and leaving his teammates wide open under the basket. He had one nice feed to Smith out of a time out late in the game, but he had missed Smith and Stover on similar plays earlier in the game. You have to love his grit and his toughness, but now that teams are keying in on stopping Reeves offensively, he is going to have to start looking to set his teammates up with the attention he draws.

Opposing teams can key in on Joshua Smith instead if they want, but I doubt it'd do much good. Smith didn't start tonight, yielding to Brendan Lane, but it did protect Smith from those early fouls that have been his undoing in this short season. What is clear so far is that it doesn't matter who the competition is, Josh Smith is just a walking mismatch for other teams when he's on the floor. The two fouls he picked up tonight were of the highly questionable variety, so you could say that he went his entire 28 minutes with 0 legitimate fouls. This could be the most positive sign to come out of this game to be honest, because TH won't be hitting 30+ every night, but Smith on the floor drastically increases our chances of winning games. Whether we're running plays isolating him in the post or using him as the garbage man to clean up misses, he manages to have an impact. Smith logged 17 points and 13 rebounds tonight for his first double double, and though he was responsible for 5 of our FT misses, he got 10 attempts. Flipping the script on his foul problems, he was the one dishing out the abuse and getting others into foul trouble.

So with TH and Smith playing fantastically, Nelson playing adequately, and Lane and Stover providing some solid backup minutes, how could things have gone wrong?

I have to wonder if Malcolm Lee is still hurting, because he had the quietest 31 minutes I've seen from such a key player for this team. His 2-8 performance is just not going to cut it going forward.

It's fashionable to bash on Jerime Anderson's limitations. His second half was pretty awful, and picking up his dribble for no reason and throwing the ball away near the end of the game could have easily been the difference maker. He had five turnovers in 19 minutes of play. It's a good thing we have Lazeric Jones who can take care of the ball, since he only had...wait, four turnovers? Yes, nine turnovers from our point guard position. I understand that Kansas was extending their defense to halfcourt and trapping, and that is a mitigating factor since the rest of the team needs to help out in that situation, but some of these turnovers are just of the bonehead overdribbling overpenetrating-and-don't-have-a-frickin-plan variety, and that goes for both Zeke and Jerime, and that is unacceptable right now. It's sad, but I believe that going forward, the PGs mentality no matter who is in must be to simply "do no harm" and hope that our talent in the frontcourt is enough to carry the day, because while KU fans would have surely pointed to missed FTs as a reason they lost, had they lost, we legitimately can point to our point guard play as a primary reason for this loss.

So this whole recap went longer than I planned. Some say that this team has a lot of potential and that there are things in this loss that are encouraging. There are others that say that this was a travesty, only made worse by a ridiculous ref call. Guess what? Everyone's right.

Next game is against Montana on Sunday.

I now return you to your regular programming.

GO BRUINS...

...AND F*#& $C!

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