UCLA vs. Pepperdine Preview: Can UCLA Overcome the Negative Mojo?

Jerime Anderson #5 of the UCLA Bruins looks like the only Bruin playing hard and up to his potential so far this season. If Jerime is alone tonight in that effort, expect another loss. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Once again the preview of the game tonight, against Pepperdine, is not as much about the opponent but about UCLA's biggest opponent, itself.  I will have more about the Pepperdine Waves after the jump, but as many are saying "what the heck is going on with these Bruins?"  And while we play again at USC campus and a likely empty and decrepit Sports Arena, is Chianti Dan sitting at home dreaming of Rose Bowl?  Further, don't forget last year's big letdown after the USC loss to Montana in front of a dead crowd.  Well, how can UCLA fans feel anything but down today with their football team led by a man everyone but Chianti Dan knows is going to be/should be fired before the next embarrassment against Oregon on Friday? 

And to be clear, I don't want to be negative on the players.  This is about Ben Howland and Chianti Dan.  Any UCLA team should be able to win games against teams like Pepperdine, and while we're at it, LMU and Middle Tennessee State, even if they are playing in a place so worn-down, a football school won't let its basketball team play there. 

I am going to briefly throw out my suggestions for each player who has played significant minutes below, feel free to gives yours below in the comments but keep it to what Howland can do and do right now.  Keeping in mind the first issue, is UCLA opponents are shooting 51%.  To put that perspective on how bad that is, it would be the worst in nation for the entire season last year.

More after the jump.

Let's start with the player most thought would be the Bruins' best this year: Josh Smith.  As Jay Bilas said:

"I expected that Smith was going to come back more prepared than last year; he's less prepared," Bilas said of the 6-foot-10, 315-pound sophomore, who had 12 points but six turnovers against the Wolverines. "He was a net loss with the turnovers, the buckets he was giving up because he really couldn't keep up defensively. It negated every point that he scored."

There is a partial solution for Smith's problems: zone defense. Smith is a great offense rebounder (best in recent UCLA history) because he can pick his space and he can't be moved.  But Jerime Anderson has more defensive rebounds than Smith because Smith can't move on defense to get a rebound or block out his man.  Zone works well for Smith because he has to guard a space like he does when he rebounds on offense.

Travis Wear is our second leading scorer and second leading offensive rebounder.  I think Travis' offensive problems can be fixed by shot selection: layups, post ups, wide open threes, okay; shooting on the run or just inside the three point line: no!  But the bigger problem is his defense.  He has as many defensive rebounds as Josh, despite having a lot more minutes and, on the defensive end, he has been beat a lot.  If he is to play, we must play zone.  Travis may be out or limited tonight due to a cut on his foot while snorkeling in Maui.  This snippet from the Kansas game sums it up:

And still, the Bruins lacked restraint.

Starters Lazeric Jones and Travis Wear continued to take - and miss - shots 

David Wear is not the same player as Travis but he is also not a small forward.  Before the season this was written:

 The question mark is his ability to defend the smaller, quicker players he'll match up against, but that will turn into an advantage with post-up opportunities on the other end of the floor. 

The question mark has been answered, he is a huge liability on defense.  But there is not an advantage on offense because he does not post up, instead playing like a wing shooting outside and driving.  David at small forward was a gamble and it crapped out.  Move on CBH.  It's time to find another option for the wing.

Reeves Nelson is shooting better from beyond the arc than from inside it right now.  The answer for Reeves is easy but hard to do.  He needs to focus on what he does well, play inside, play with positive emotion.  He is key to this team but he needs to go inside first (especially when Josh is out).  He is spending too much time outside because he thinks he is a small forward in the NBA. 

The strangest player this year has been Tyler Lamb.  Tyler has shown flashes of offensive skill and looks much better on offense than last year but still is shooting poorly, percentage wise.  However the bigger problem is Lamb was supposed to be our defensive stopper but is arguably our worse defender.  Opponents are shooting 51% from three, which begs a question on Lamb's effort:

Part of Jones' role will be to help usher along second-year shooting guard Tyler Lamb, who is attempting to take over the role of defensive stopper occupied by Malcolm Lee last season.

"Defense is effort, it's a lot of effort," Lamb said. "I've always had the attitude I hate getting scored on, so I think that just helps me."

There may be an answer here.   CBH may be realizing part of the problem.  In the second half against Michigan, Norman Powell started over Lamb.  Powell did well on defense.  He has the quickness and hops to play anyone on the perimeter, and if we are going to be playing man-to-man, Powell must play more.  Shoot, he is also indicative of the problem of shooting too many threes

"We are taking probably too many 3-point shots," UCLA coach Ben Howland said after the game. "I don't know how much that was forced by their defense, but we're not shooting the ball well from 3. We're going to have to be more patient offensively, and we're going to have to pack things in better."

Powell is shooting 45% overall but is perfect from inside the arc. I realize this is overstating the fact but the point is Powell and the Bruins need to shoot more on the inside, rather than settling for the deep shot.

Of course I have not talked about the best and worst so far this year: Zeek Jones.  He was incredibly gutty last year and everyone agrees no one worked harder in the off season.  Yet, he is the worst player so far this season.  Zeek leads UCLA in shot attempts, is last in FG%, last in 3-point % among those with a make, tied for first in TOs, etc.  It is easy to say bench him but this is not the Zeek I know from last year who was a solid player.  Last year Zeek was really the fifth option on offense and he was fifth in shot attempts (when you adjust for Smith playing fewer minutes).  Zeek needs to go back to pass first, second, third, etc. and stop forcing so many bad shots.

Of course the one player who is playing well is Jerime Anderson.  Let me begin to say I think Jerime was the major cause of the 2009-10 debacle.  I agree with Nestor that the suspension Anderson received was too light.  But I will say a couple of things about Anderson: he is the only one playing smart, playing within himself, and leaving it all on the court.  He is not forcing things and his effort is showing.  He leads the team in per game scoring by a healthy margin but is fourth in shot attempts.  He is doing his part now to make sure this is not a repeat of 2009-10. Now, the question is are his teammates doing their part:

"I mean, I saw some guys that really fought and some others that were not all there. No team can win like that."

Bilas pointed to senior guard Jerime Anderson leaving the Lahaina Civic Center court in tears after UCLA's 79-63 loss to Michigan on Wednesday as a sign of the type of character the Bruins (1-4) needed to reverse their worst start in 24 years.

As far as Pepperdine.  Pepperdine lost their two best players, Mychel Thompson and Keion Bell, from last year in a 79-69 loss to UCLA.  However, Pepperdine beat fellow Pac-12 squad Arizona State at ASU 66-60 with a balanced approach and by being hot from downtown (UCLA biggest weakness this year):

The Waves didn't have another double-digit scorer, but hit 8 of 11 from 3-point range for what could be a big confidence-boosting win early in the season.

In five games this year Pepperdine has had six different leading scorers (a tie one time).

At center, Corbin Moore has led them in rebounding in every game this season.  Corbin is an Orange County native and a senior who has been a steady but unspectacular in his career.  Any Bruin at center out to be able to out play him.  Will they?  PG Joshua Lowrey beat the Sun Devils at the FT line.  He did not start last year when UCLA played Pepperdine but moved into the job as the season went on.  He is only shooting 27% from the field, but of course that is still better than Zeek.  The power forward is the leading scorer and is strictly an inside player, Taylor Darby.  An inspired Reeves destroyed him last year with 20 points and 11 rebounds.  Shooting guard Caleb Willis is a worry for UCLA.  He is mostly a three point shooter but has been good this year for 8-14.  Someone will have to stay on him.  The sixth man is another solid guard, Jordan Baker

Enough on Pepperdine, they are more balanced but probably not as good as last year, at least on talent.  But that is just it, they are a team. 

Is UCLA?  Will Howland live by this he said early? 

"I'm not concerned who starts," Howland said. "It may change; it may be that Reeves [Nelson] doesn't start, or whoever. It's who's in the game at the end, and we want our best defensive team to be in the game at the end."

We shall see.  There are reasons to be down, but it is up to the players and CBH to start turning things around now.  It is certain that Chianti Dan won't help as we play in front of depressed fans thinking of last Saturday and next Friday on our rival's campus.  Include your thoughts on how CBH can make this UCLA team better.  

Go Bruins.  

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