The Yin and the Yang of UCLA Basketball

Achilles wrote that I was the yin to his yang on basketball.  Unfortunately for both of us, there is a lot to argue about.  This is not an easy team to figure out.  It starts with our leading scorer: Reeves Nelson.

On the positive side, Reeves has improved into a good man to man defender, sometimes defensive stopper, a good passer, a unique running power forward, and clutch player.

On the negative side, Reeves still wears his emotions on his sleeves, is sometimes an abusive teammate, sometimes plays basketball more like fullback running over people, and seems delusional in thinking he can shoot well beyond 15 feet.  His teammates defend him though:

"He's a really emotional person and it comes out the wrong way sometimes, but he always means the best," Stover said "He breathes on everyone the hardest because he's driven to win and he pushes us to do that."  

Of course there is truth to both sides. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. 

On the positive side, UCLA went 19-5 after a 3-4 start and more importantly is now playing very good defense (most of the time).  UCLA avenged its two worst Pac-10 losses, against USC and Arizona, with well-played emotional big wins at home.  

On the negative side, UCLA still has trouble playing 40 minutes and lost to a Cal team when it did not show up for the first half and should have lost to a Washington State team for the same reason.  Both teams surprised the Bruins with offensive wrinkles which explains the bad start on defense but not on offense, where UCLA scored 18 and 19 points in a half! 

More after the jump.

On the positive side, Jerime Anderson has becoming a valuable sixth man who has shown what happens when you stay in school until your junior year and keep working with CBH.  Outside a few observers like Nestor and CBH, most people had given up on him.  CBH has used Anderson not only as a PG but also with Lee and Jones  and has managed him perfectly it seems.  Anderson is even a good defender now. 

On the negative side, the rest of the bench has been a liability.  Stover and Lamb are negatives on offense.  Some say CBH has not played them enough minutes to get them in the flow. 

On the positive side, Zeek Jones, before his multiple hand injuries, was well on his way to overachieving the  expectations most fans had set for him.  It seems like CBH had again found a treasure that others had missed.   Oregon State's coach,  Craig Robinson said aloud what many were thinking that a healthy Jones is "one of the best point guards in this conference."

On the negative side, Brendan Lane started the year as the sixth man, playing more minutes than Joshua Smith, but has seemingly played his way down to ninth man in  the lineup.  In first 15 games of the season he played less than 20 minutes just one time and UCLA was 9-6.  Since he was moved down in the rotation (never playing more than 20 minutes a game), UCLA is 13-3.  It seems at a minimum those minutes would have better used on Lamb or Stover, and at worse Lane may be not be ready yet for the Pac-10 (hopefully, he is the next Anderson, in that he'll have a revival and become a solid contributor).

On the positive side, CBH has proved he can make almost any team into a defensive force given time and talent.  UCLA now regularly holds teams to 40% or under shooting and in the last 11 games only Cal and Stanford have shot over 40% on the Bruins.  Further, UCLA held then-No. 10 Arizona to 31% shooting in a  "perfect" game at Pauley.  Speaking of Arizona, the Mildcats' head coach Sean Miller said: "[t]hey've become the best defensive team in our conference."

On the negative side, why can't CBH's teams feed the post more?  In 2007-08, Kevin Love seemingly had to fight for the ball even having to get his shots from 3 pointers and offensive rebounds instead of in the flow of the offense.  It looks like CBH teams are content to just pass it around the outside and force up a shot at the end of the clock sometimes.  On Saturday we saw the extreme contrast when in the first half we were missing threes ignoring the inside and losing to a shorthanded team.  Then in the second half UCLA pounded the ball inside and made up a 15 point deficit.  This year with what CBH calls his "best low post scoring team" in Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson, he needs to make sure the team does not forget that. 

On the positive side, UCLA came within a couple bad breaks (literally in the case of Zeek's finger) of winning, or at least tying Arizona for the Pac-10 regular-season championship, and arguably are the better team but for injuries.   None of Arizona's top nine players has missed a game or had a significant injury while four of UCLA's top nine have missed a game.  More importantly, Tyler Honeycutt (elbow), Malcolm Lee (knee) and Lazeric Jones (finger and wrist), have been battling nagging injuries much of the year.  And this has had a direct impact, UCLA's only Pac-10 home loss happen in large part because of Zeek's dislocated finger and if that does not happen we may have been tied for first.  UCLA and Arizona have the same win-loss road record and are the only two Pac-10 teams with winning road records.  UCLA's road record is arguably slightly better, because UCLA did not lose to a team with a losing record in conference as Arizona did when it lost to 9th place Oregon State; have not been swept on a road trip this year as Arizona was in LA;  and, unlike Arizona who was blown out by 22 on the road to UCLA and Washington by 17, UCLA never lost by more than 12 for the season.  We also have the better quality wins outside the Pac-10 beating  BYU (who beat Arizona) and St. John's.  If not for injuries, especially to Zeek, we may well have been Pac-10 regular-season champ.

On the negative side, we have played too many bad teams close.  Only against Oregon State at home were we truly dominant throughout a game against the bottom of the Pac-10.  Of the four teams playing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament (7th-10 place):  Arizona State took us to overtime on the road and lead us 21-9 with 9:34 left in the first half at home; 9th place Oregon State came back from a 17 point deficit to briefly take a lead with 2:44 left; 8th place Oregon led both games at halftime; 7th place Stanford was beating us by 14 at home and on the road they closed to within 4 with a 1:11 left. 

But that's just it, UCLA did win.  This team does fight and come back.  This isn't a glass is half full, half empty situation.  Howland has himself off the hot seat and 22+ wins this season is a positive. 

But as long as we don't play 40 minutes on a regular basis there will be a lot to argue about.

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