Today's news roundup of the Arizona State blowout defeat has some insightful reporting from a surprising source and some predictable pap. First the neutral and obvious from the Orange County Register in a story entitled: Bruins' up-and-down season hits a new low
Less than two days had passed since UCLA had been on top of the world, putting its home loss to Oregon firmly in the rear view and cruising to its most impressive victory of the season at No. 6 Arizona.
The emotion of the game had lifted a Bruins team that, all season long, had obliged to take the highs with the lows, riding a youth-laden roster up and down a roller coaster of momentum. But atop its biggest peak of the season thus far heading into Saturday's game at Arizona State, that thrill ride took a sharp turn downward against the Sun Devils.
Then the official spin from Peter "talking points" Yoon over at ESPN in a story entitled "UCLA unable to avoid a predictable letdown"
The words "trap game" and "overlook" came up frequently in the aftermath of that 84-73 victory in Tucson, but the Bruins (16-5, 6-2 Pac-12) were powerless to do anything about Saturday, even though they were fully aware it might happen.
"There was no motivation," Muhammad said of the team's lackluster effort. "Going into this game, we were like, 'This is a trap game and we have to play hard because we just got a great win off of Arizona,' and then we come out here and not play as hard."
This type of inconsistency is what you get with a young team still trying to find its way. For every impact win, a bad loss is lurking around the corner. And while Arizona State (16-4, 5-2) isn't exactly a pushover, the inability to back up the big win Thursday makes it a bad loss for UCLA.
"It's a learning experience," Howland said. "We're very young, and the first thing you worry about after a big win on the road at Arizona is a letdown. ... I just thought that we didn't have the same fire that we needed like we had Thursday night."
Ah no. UCLA's loss was not due to a letdown but more to the fact we have problems with big physical teams. It is not a letdown from the Arizona game that caused the biggest problems but the inability to deal with okay-to-good bigs as in the Oregon game right before Arizona. As the LA Times wrote in a story entitled "Bruins can't go big, so they go home losers against Arizona State"
UCLA was manhandled by Oregon's inside players in a loss to the Ducks a week earlier. The Bruins revisited those issues.
Bachynski had eight offensive rebounds. UCLA had eight as a team. Bachynski had career highs in points and rebounds, and his wing span made the paint a no-fly zone. . .
Arizona State had a 53-33 rebounding edge, with three players with double digits - Bachynski, Jonathan Gilling (12) and Felix (11).
The Sun Devils worked the Bruins' undersized interior like an exposed nerve. Felix, who had 23 points, made eight of 12 shots, mostly by posting up Muhammad. Bachynski made 10 of 12 shots.
"They were scoring every time," said Muhammad, who had 18 points. "We couldn't get our break going because we couldn't play any defense. That big guy did whatever he wanted inside. We feed off misses and they weren't missing."
That is why UCLA lost. Not because of a letdown. Sure Travis Wear and a letdown may have contributed a little. (However, the youth excuse does not apply to anyone anymore except for Tony Parker who has hardly played.) But bigs such as Texas' Cameron Ridley, Long Beach State's Dan Jennings, Oregon's Tony Woods, have all destroyed UCLA. Now we can add the name Jordan Bachynski to the list.
Bachynski had career highs with 22 points and 15 rebounds, eight on the offensive end, throwing his weight around against a Bruins team that seemed leery of contact. ASU had a 53-33 rebounding edge, its greatest margin in coach Herb Sendek's seven seasons here, and had 13 second-chance points. ASU had a 46-26 edge on points in the paint.
Sendek took Bachynski out 3 ½ minutes into the game and had a short conversation, and when Bachynski returned five minutes later, he was a new man. He scored eight of the Sun Devils' next 10 points on shots around the rim, and his pick-and-roll layup off a Felix feed gave ASU a 22-19 lead, a lead it never lost. . . .
Bachynski's short shot in the lane 90 seconds into the second half gave ASU a 43-33 lead, and UCLA never found a comeback, getting as close as nine points only three times thereafter.
Bachynski also had six blocked shots and the Sun Devils held UCLA to 34.7 percent shooting from the field.
While Long Beach State and Texas fell short of beating UCLA despite abusing UCLA inside, Arizona State, like Oregon, made some interesting coaching decisions that put them over the top. The decision to attack Shabazz on offense was one of them. Shabazz's defense was offensive. Matched up against a player who was 3-20 in his career against UCLA, Shabazz was destroyed(emphasis mine).
The Sun Devils (16-4, 5-2) received dominant performances from center Jordan Bachynski, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds, and winger Carrick Felix, who took advantage of shoddy defense by UCLA star freshman Shabazz Muhammad to put up 23 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting. Muhammad, UCLA's leading scorer, was silent for long stretches but ended up with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, but he was 0-for-4 on 3-point attempts.
Another coaching decision that exposed a UCLA weakness was Larry Drew's reluctance to shoot. As Jack Wang pointed out among his interesting tidbits was the fact ASU also decided to dare Larry Drew II to shoot:
The Sun Devils have spent the first half sagging of Larry Drew II, and will continue to do so if he can't keep them honest with some open jump shots.
Howland mistakes were not limited to not adjusting to ASU's tactics but also to not realizing what was happening to his own players. As far as David Wear, I personally agree with Wang's assessment of his play.
David Wear started the game by making two of three shots, but missed the remaining nine he took in the game. He also missed a wide-open dunk late in the game. Just an awful day overall for the fully healthy Wear twin, who couldn't back up his assertion that he was as capable as Travis. It was the sort of performance that draws sympathy more than scorn.
But because of Howland's refusal earlier this season to play Tony Parker more he had nowhere to go when David faltered. For as Wang pointed out:
Tony Parker might have helped if his development was sped up a few months. As it stood, he picked up two fouls early and was more or less a non-factor for the rest of the game. He missed a shot and grabbed a rebound in his 13 minutes of play. Yes, he could potentially be better now had he been trusted more earlier, but he didn't do anything notable with his biggest opportunity yet.
So Yoon has the following for the stat of the game:
Stat of the game: UCLA, the Pac-12 leader in field goal percentage at 47.7 percent coming in to the game, shot a season-low 34.7 percent. It was only the second time UCLA had failed to shoot 40 percent or better and the first since Nov. 13 against UC Irvine. UCLA shot 28.9 percent in the second half.
While that is important to point out, I want to close with two more from Jack Wang, who really did a good job IMO reporting on this game.
Arizona State beat UCLA by 15-plus points for the first time since 2003. UCLA couldn't finish off its first road sweep in the state since the 2007-08 season.
That is very important. UCLA is not back. UCLA is as good as they have been the last four years, not good enough to win the PAC 12 or hang around the tournament very long. They are good enough to play some good games. They are at times, more fun to watch than recent years.
This was not a let down game but one that exposed the biggest weakness of a good but ultimately flawed team. As Wang writes batting back the last excuse:
Speaking of Travis Wear, would his presence have changed the outcome at all? As transformative as he has been on offense lately, it's hard to imagine how he would have limited Jordan Bachynski's career performance. The 7-foot-2 center had a career-best 22 points and 15 rebounds, and tossed in six blocks and a steal for good measure. He missed two of his 12 shots.
UCLA can't deal with a well-coached team with an okay to good big. USC has a number of bigs; not sure they are well-coached but the Bruins better be ready for their next game.