UCLA Hoops Roundup: Finishes

Douglas C. Pizac-USA Today Sport

UCLA still lacks a killer instinct in Utah something they could use in Colorado

The roundup shows why me miss Baxter Holmes or even John Gold as reporters. LA Times goes back to being a fishwrap in a story that talks more about the bus driver to the stadium and has the following headline, Bruins finally arrive with win over Utes, 57-53 :

There were two clutch drives Thursday.

There was Larry Drew II, who slipped to the hoop for a one-handed scoop shot that clinched the Bruins' 57-53 Pac-12 victory over Utah.

There was UCLA's bus driver, who slipped, and slid, on the road getting the Bruins through a blizzard so they could pick up their eighth consecutive victory.

. . .The Utes, trailing, 55-53, missed four shots on one possession, two wide-open looks by Glen Dean on three-pointers. Dean missed another three on the Utes' next possession and the game was put into Drew's hands.

He dribbled the ball, then burst to the hoop past 6-foot-10 Jason Washburn for the clinching basket with nine seconds left.

Drew deserves credit just as Dean deserves some blame. But the Bruins did not "arrive." Instead they were plagued by their usual problem of not being able to finish:

UCLA nearly gave up an 11-point halftime lead and hung on for a 57-53 win at Utah in the Bruins' first true road game of the season.

Ben Howland's young Bruins have been searching for a killer instinct all season. They certainly didn't find it when they traveled to Utah on Thursday night. . . .

The Bruins (13-3, 3-0 Pac-12) led by as many as 13 in the first half but were outplayed by the Utes (8-7, 0-3 Pac-12). UCLA couldn't buy a bucket, shooting just 39 percent in the second half (9-of-23 shots).

More details on the problems at the end:

After leading the Bruins with 11 points in the first half, freshman forward Kyle Anderson didn't make a single second-half bucket. Shabazz Muhammad, who led UCLA in scoring with 19 points per game before Thursday, tallied just six points - two in the second half - while collecting just three rebounds. And Jordan Adams, while scoring 12 points, shot just 2 of 5 in the second half and missed two key 3-pointers down the stretch.

Adams wasn't the only one who forced up long-range shots to no avail in the game's final few minutes. Before Drew's winning finger roll, the Bruins' previous four possessions had ended with a Muhammad air-balled 3-pointer, two Adams' long-range bricks and a missed desperation 3-pointer from Drew.

Part of that was very good defense by Cedric Martin on Shabazz. Not sure what happen with Anderson although I guess Utah's adjustments deserve some credit.

What is worrisome is how shaky the UCLA offense looked for much of the second half. Kyle Anderson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds before the break, essentially vanished; he didn't score at all in the second half and grabbed just one more board. The team couldn't fall into any sort of rhythm, and barely avoided falling below the 40-percent mark from the field. Only once this season have the Bruins shot worse, and that was when they barely held on to beat UC Irvine in overtime.

They had looked good heading into halftime in Salt Lake City, holding the Utes to one field goal over the last 8:30 of the period. Jordan Adams scored seven points during a 16-5 run that closed the first half, abusing the 5-foot-10 Dean while Cedric Martin manned Shabazz Muhammad.

That story changed when Utah went on a 9-0 run, cutting the gap to 44-41 midway through the second.

Martin's defense was effective too, as he forced Muhammad into what was easily the worst game of his career. Muhammad finished with single-digit scoring for the first time, notching six points on 3-of-13 shooting. The touted freshman even airballed 3-pointer late in the game. (His late-game surges have been exciting to watch, but the flip side of that coin is that he'll have the tendency to force shots even if they're not falling.)

But the second half when the freshman faltered, Drew II hit the big shot and Travis Wear carried us. I really think it is time people separate Travis from David. Travis is playing good(not great) and I will close with the other upper classman:

Player of the game: Wear basically carried the team in the latter part of the game, scoring eight of his 12 points during a five-minute stretch in which the rest of the offense was cold. He had 10 points in the second half and was 4-of-4 from the free throw line.

**

Onto Colorado. Unlike Utah, Colorado is a good team with issues. I don't care if they are 1-2 in the conference. They beat the SPTR's favorite team the Arizona Wildcats but for a bad call. But there is an interesting problem Colorado has, finishing games, sound familiar? Excepting the Kansas game (when they were blown out from the start), they start well but don't always finish well. Forgetting the robbery by the refs in the Arizona game they were up 9 with 1:44 to go. Refs should not matter. They folded in their other losses as well. They had problems late yesterday against USC and if SUC could shoot they might have won or made that game real close. They only shot 66% from the free throw line. So UCLA needs to keep fighting.

But except for the Kansas game, they have shown they can beat anyone. And with the way UCLA finishes games, Colorado is looking good. UCLA plays Colorado at noon so it is even a quick turnaround for a short benched UCLA.

Onto the matchups. It starts with the Colorado Point Guard, the very good defender Spencer Dinwiddie. Spencer will not play defense on Drew II but on Adams or Shabazz. He is 6'6" and a good shooter from three not a great ball handler for a point guard. How will a tired Adams or Shabazz do matched up against a very good athlete who likes to play defense?

The 6'1" Asika Booker plays like an offensive point guard except for the passing part. He is Colorado's leading scorer and takes a lot of shots for them (almost 1.5 times the next highest in shot attempts.) From the Colorado roster notes:

Explosive guard who excels at driving to the hoop and finishing over bigger defenders • Strength and athleticism have helped him succeed at the high school level. "He's a utility guard - not a guy you put in a category as far as a point-guard or a two-guard; he's just a good basketball player," coach Boyle said. "He can pass, dribble, shoot, he's athletic.

Next comes the player that scares me on Colorado, Andre Robertson. Robertson was the third best rebounder in the country last year and had 20 double-doubles. Robertson can do it all except shoot free throws. Will he keep UCLA off the glass on offense:

Roberson ranked second in the nation (trailing only Kansas' Thomas Robinson, a consensus All-America selection) in defensive rebound percentage (29.6 percent) as calculated by Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com).

He is a beast that will hurt us inside, only question is how much.

Playing next to him is 6'10" Josh Scott. Scott has been effective inside this year. He is actually scoring more points than Robertson, although not as good at rebounding.

Xavier Johnson is the last starter at the three or sometimes off the bench. He is another Mater Dei player (so are the Wears) and is the wing. Xavier has shown flashes of being special but is also a bad free throw shooter, fouled out of three games, and turns the ball over.

The sixth man or sometimes starter is Sabatino Chen. He is a glue guy who does not shoot outside well but kind of does everything else okay.

So Colorado is a good team but not deep. Colorado can start strong but has problems finishing. I am not sure UCLA with their eight man rotation matches up well though. This will be a tough game for the Bruins but the winnable kind for a PAC 12 champ. If UCLA gets down big in this game they should never give up but on the flipside if they keep it close they may be able to pull off a road sweep.

But then again, the Bruins were exhausted the last few minutes against Utah so the odds seem better of being blown out then squeaking out win. Character test of sorts tomorrow night.

Go Bruins.

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