UCLA's season long flirtation with .500 ball continues. At 9-9 against Division 1 teams and 3-4 in conference, the Bruins are officially mediocre. The worst part is that the team had figured out a blueprint for success and completely ignored it down the stretch and Oregon seized advantage and sent the Bruins home once again without a conference road victory (box score).
The first half was an impressive rebound from Thursday's defenseless debacle. UCLA held Oregon to 23% shooting in the half and were efficient everywhere but the free throw line and where Joshua Smith was involved. The most impressive player of the first half was Anthony Stover, who despite not having the big numbers in the box score was an intimidating force in the middle, freeing our perimeter players to gamble a little more and not have to help in the post. Stover tallied 3 blocks before halftime playing extended meaningful minutes with Smith's foul trouble. The rest of the team besides Smith did their parts offensively, and the Wears even impressed with their effort on the defensive glass. It looked like a healthy mix of Stover, three guards, and a Wear would be enough to carry the 13 point halftime lead to the end.
Of course, things are never that simple for UCLA basketball. Oregon deployed a full court press that our backcourt looked unprepared for, resulting in numerous turnovers and bad decisions. The first half MVP Stover? You'd be hard pressed to find him in the second half until Howland got desperate late in the game. It took all of 4 minutes for the Ducks to erase the halftime deficit. It boggles the mind how many chances Smith gets despite looking completely ineffective and uninterested in the game. Smith being in pushes Howland to bring in both Wears, which inevitably means a return to the failed David Wear at 3 experiment. Oregon's EJ Singler, who had just 6 points at halftime ended up with a career high 26, and he began heating up against Wear.
If this was the first headscratching substitution pattern we had seen out of this team it would be one thing. But I don't think it's much of a stretch to conclude that the 51 second half points had a strong correlation with removing an active and intimidating defensive presence like Anthony Stover in favor of the Smith + 2 Wears or 3 Guard + 2 Wears lineups. Without a true interior presence to keep opponents honest, Oregon had 10 offensive rebounds after halftime and the Wears looked overmatched against a board crashing Duck team. This failure is about substitution patterns and personnel management. Again. And it's even more obvious because we saw the difference within the same game against the same opponent.
It is sad that none of this even seems remotely surprising. This is what this team and this program have become. It is our identity now. A below average program in a way below average conference.
Next up is Utah at home, a game that we should win handily, and that will surely have the more delusional among us - the HOWLERS (tm) - convinced that things will be better down the stretch. Unfortunately, the problems with this program are far deeper than that and we're beginning to see exactly how deep every time this team collapses down the stretch. This whole season certainly has a "swan song" type of feel to it.