Three Elements of UCLA's Malaise: Honeycutt, Nelson & Howland's Uneven "Discipline"

Is anyone really surprised?  This Bruin team has been playing with fire all season and, despite our incredible luck thus far, it finally came up and burned us.

Cal played tough defense, played hard for the entire game, but they barely pulled it out.  On paper, UCLA is the superior team.  Cal had injury problems, depth problems, and quite frankly, not nearly the talent level than our Bruins.  Too bad for us that this game wasn't played on paper.

Winning tends to make people ignore the problems.  Or, as Class of 66 aptly puts it, tends to make us paint over rust.  Sure, everything looks good on the outside, but at the core, there are major problems.

We've been winning, sure, but we've been winning ugly.  We've scratched out a few wins in games that shouldn't even be close.  These teams are nowhere close to putting up the dominant performances we saw out of CBH's Final Four teams, or even the comfortable wins we enjoyed two seasons ago.  This team is struggling and winning has masked the fact that these Bruins just aren't very good.

At least, not very good when they play unfocused, lazy basketball and Howland does nothing to hold those responsible accountable.  First, he did it with Josh Shipp, which many were willing to forgive since Shipp used to be a tough-nosed do-everything kind of guy, diving for loose balls as a freshman, and subsequently sacrificing his body year after year for UCLA.  But, then Howland let his own personal Matt Barkley, the Belgrade Bricklayer, play without anything even resembling accountability.  No defense?  It's all good.  Missing free throws?  It's cool.  Jacking up ill-advised three-pointers with 30+ seconds on the shot clock?  No problem for Coach Ben if your name is Nikola Dragovic.  Some people wrote it off as an aberration, a coach trying to repay a kid who left his homeland and family to play all four years for ol' Ben.

But, another year, and we have another set of Ben's hand-picked golden children, free from discipline, free from consequences, and permitted to play lazy, unfocused basketball while other guys are given the quick hook for the most minor errors.  Who?

Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson.

More break-down after the jump.

Now, this isn't exactly a new topic at BN.  Howland's stubborn refusal to discipline his players in a consistent manner has been a topic of discussion since the Bricklayer was embarrassing UCLA on the floor night-in and night-out.  Achilles summed it up best last month:

I appreciate Howland's attempt to "discipline" his big freshman. Really do. The question becomes though where was that discipline for Reeves Nelson when he had been jogging back on transition defense game after game? Where was that discipline for Tyler Honeycutt when he was giving milquetoast effort on the defensive side in numerous games throughout this season? Why single out Josh? Even if Howland had singled out Josh was it really necessary to extend that punishment into double OT?

Why wasn't there any discipline for Reeve Nelson's behavior in Tucson? All that happened after Smith lost his cool during the game against the Trojans at Galen Center? There is also the mess of entire last season when a certain player from Serbia was able to skate through entire season without expending any effort on defense?

Now, you didn't forget about Tattoo's antics in Tuscon, now did you?

As DCBruins summed up last month:

But it was more frustrating watching Reeves "SC is not a big game" Nelson yuck it up at the the end of the game.  Yes, Reeves had a good game on offense, especially in the first half that kept us in it.  Yes, I have defended Reeves for his bad body language etc. because he has also cheered on his teammates.  But his laughing at the end of this loss and the below was inexcusable.

Now, before you jump off and write this off as BN being negative after a close loss against our rival UC sister school in Berkeley, you'd be forgetting that Tracy Pierson has been making the same observations (emphasis added) [article not behind a paid firewall at the time of this blogpost]:

I think there are some things we’re just going to have to come to terms with: Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson will always be capable of putting out a poor effort on the floor, and Ben Howland is always capable of allowing them to play regardless of it.

It’s a shame that this team’s fate is so tied into those three elements. But Howland has tied his ship to Honeycutt and Nelson by not benching them when they play with suck a lackluster effort as they did Sunday night. This is what happens when you make these types of players the leaders of your team. And don’t ever think that’s not the case – Honeycutt plays the most minutes on the team, averaging 34 per game, and Nelson is third in minutes played (behind Malcolm Lee), averaging 31. And there personalities are the dominating ones in the locker room. It is a true reflection of Howland’s perspective on it – that Honeycutt plays more minutes than the guy who is the team’s true warrior and MVP, Malcolm Lee.

So, let's turn to last night's laughably lame effort at Haas Pavilion.  Tattoo was in rare form, not playing defense, turning the ball over in critical offensive possessions (can someone please tell him that he is not a freakin' point guard), and the oh-so-important not-boxing-out:

Coach Ben Howland said the Bruins were also to blame for failing to block out, a breakdown that has haunted UCLA throughout the season.

"You can't miss block outs and expect to win on the road," Howland said.

Hmm, now who didn't bother blocking out Harper Kamp in the most critical part of the game, on the one free throw that Jorge Gutierrez didn't make?

Oh yeah: Reeves Nelson.

If you watch the tape, you'll see he doesn't even bother looking to find his man and get a body on him to block him out.  He just lazily turns toward the hoop and watches the ball bounce away.  And did Tattoo take responsibility for his lapse (like Arron Afflalo would do when he "messed up" and it cost us)?  Of course not:

"It was just a long rebound and it went to the other side of the rim," sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said, "so they got the rebound."

Sorry Tattoo, it wasn't that long of a rebound.  It was exactly long enough to go the man literally standing right behind you, the man you couldn't bother blocking out with only 1:19 left in overtime, with UCLA down by only one.  End result? Cal gets the ball, gets a second chance and scores, making it 71-68 with about one minute left.

Let's move on to Mr. NBA, Tyler Honeycutt.  Generally, I was under the impression that guys in the NBA, unless they are a dominating big man in the paint (read: Shaq) have the ability to handle the rock.  Apparently, Mr. NBA doesn't think that's a skill set he'll need at the next level, since once again he led the Bruins with turnovers at 6.

Speaking of turnovers, guess who was second?  That's right: Tattoo with 5.  Next closest Bruin?  Josh Smith with 3 and no one else with more than 1.

Back to Mr. NBA, whoever has been telling him he's a NBA-ready prospect must have gone to the Ernie Kent (Fox giving him a job as a commentator is nearly as embarrassing as WWL hiring that fraud Blagojevich Lavin) school of basketball (where apparently winning and effort aren't required courses).  Tracy breaks down Honeycutt's game, and well, it isn't pretty:

Overall, it’s a complete no-brainer that, if you add it all up and take into consideration the entire package – the limited offensive game, the negative assist-to-turnover ratio, the inconsistent rebounding and the good shotblocking, there is no way it comes out on the positive side when you put it up against his atrocious defense, like the one he played against Cal.

We could laundry list so many instances in the Cal game in which Honeycutt was bad defensively or in blocking out for rebounds (It was clear why he didn’t get one rebound in this game, because it looked like he had completely given up on blocking out). It’s embarrassing to the UCLA program, and the distressing thing about it is that UCLA and Howland allow it to continue to be put out there as UCLA’s calling card.

So let's talk about that atrocious defense: Tyler Honeycutt pulled a classic Jrue Holiday-esque half-ass night of defense, letting Jorge Gutierrez (averaging 14.6 points this season, and who was averaging 13.8 going into last night's game) go off for 34 points.  34 freakin' points.  We're talking 20 points over this guy's average. 

Then again, that's not really on Honeycutt, who clearly doesn't have the speed or ability to guard faster wing players off the dribble.  That's on Howland, who besides his stubborn refusal to discipline either of his hand-picked tatted-up favorites, stubbornly refused to switch Malcolm Lee over to Gutierrez, despite Jorge killing us all night:

If we’re talking inexplicable, it’s a head-scratcher why Howland would have Lee guard Crabbe, who is mostly an outside shooter, and perhaps make the biggest defensive match-up mistake since the Westbrook-Rose choice and put Honeycutt on Gutierrez, who isn’t a great shooter but a good driver.

If you looked at it from a distance, all of these things might appear to be distinct and separate.  But they're not.  It's all part of a pattern of uneven discipline and stubborn refusal to admit fault from Howland, which in turn, has led to two players with a sense of entitlement, who know they don't have to play tough defense, don't need to block out, don't need to give 110%, because no-matter-what, they'll get their minutes, no matter how poor they play.

Need proof of that?

Look no further than the comparison between Brendan Lane and Reeves Nelson.  As Tracy pointed out:

Brendan Lane looked good again, continuing to show a renewed sense of energy since he took a few days off last week due to his grandfather’s funeral. In 13 minutes he had 7 points and four rebounds, getting a couple of key putbacks in the second half down the stretch, and he was active on defense.

But, of course, despite the kid working his behind off, playing within himself, and positively contributing to the team, Howland yanks him just as he was getting into a rhythm and building confidence on both ends and puts in Tattoo, who promptly went out and played half-ass basketball.

Could you find a more stark contrast between Howland and Coach (HT to gbruin).  I'll break this down so everyone is on the same page:

Coach was willing to dismiss Bill freakin' Walton, just because Walton didn't want to shave and comply with Coach's clean-shaven policy.

Howland, on the other hand, refuses to discipline his hand-picked favorites for their lazy, uninspired, half-hearted, soft basketball.

Like Class of 66 said, this team is just painting over rust.  Until Howland is ready to get realistic and hold his players accountable across the board, UCLA will continue to be plagued by inconsistent and ugly basketball from entitled prima donna players who know they don't have to give 100% to get their minutes.

GO BRUINS

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