While many are going to argue the worst loss was to USC because, well it's just SC. Others are going to argue it was Cal Poly because it is an UGLY stain on the team post season with an unbelievable bad RPI of 197. But if you take out the emotion and the numbers, really the worst loss of the season may be against Arizona State. Why?
Arizona State exposed the flaws of this team. Coming off our biggest road win since 2008, Arizona State destroyed and embarrassed UCLA. ASU, a bad rebounding team (only UCLA is worse in the conference), out rebounded UCLA by 20. After ASU, UCLA was reeling and lost its next game for its only 2 game losing streak of the season. After ASU UCLA, the PAC 12 leading shooting team for the season, would take them three games to shoot over 40% again. ASU destroyed the Bruins' confidence.
But more than anything else, Herb Sendak exposed Ben Howland. Howland could not adjust to the ASU game plan really until the recent USC game. Now ASU is a more talented team than USC with a well-coached but not greatly talented Center in Jordan Bachynski who leads the PAC 12 in blocks with an outstanding 3.7 per game and a very good young point guard in Jahii Carson. They also have a good role player in Jonathan Gilling who leads the PAC 12 in three pointers made per game and is a good defensive rebounder. While USC was not that good of a team, ASU is a team with some legitimately good parts but is still not as talented as the Bruins.
A key to the USC game win was not a choice made by Howland. It was the injury to Travis Wear that gave Tony Parker a chance to shine (An interview is here.) It looks like Tony will get a chance tonight against Jordan Bachinsky as Jack Wang details in an article about Parker:
With junior forward Travis Wear still sidelined by a sprained foot, the Bruins' young big man may be thrown against 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski in the low post. The Arizona State center averages 3.7 blocks per game, but has played inconsistently since erupting for 22 points and 15 rebounds against UCLA in a 78-60 loss.
Parker said that game was anomalous, but added that going up against Bachynski will be a challenge.
"It is, but it works in my favor because he's tall and long," said Parker, who picked up two fouls in 13 minutes against the Sun Devils last month and missed both his shots. "I'm short and I'm kind of wider. It's easier going to be easier for me than it is for him."
Parker plugging may be better than a Wear hedging against the pick and roll. Hopefully Howland won't forget Parker in the second half this time as he did in the USC game.
Speaking of the USC game, Muhammad's eye is finally getting better. He was really hurting in that USC game.
Shabazz Muhammad's eye is finally opening up again after swelling up with pink eye last week. The freshman swingman shot just 2 of 7 from the field at USC on Sunday, and said his condition was a factor.
"It seemed unproportionate," Muhammad said of his vision. "Couldn't really see out of my right eye. But it's really open now, so I'll be fine tomorrow."
Shabazz's toughness is overlooked. But his overall play has not been overlooked.
UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad is one of 30 candidates for the Naismith Men's College Player of the Year award given annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
Muhammad, a 6-foot-6 forward, is averaging a team-best 18.2 points, a figure that leads all freshmen in the nation. He is second in the Pac-12 in scoring and leads the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (43.2 percent). UCLA (20-7, 10-4 Pac-12) is half a game out of first place in the conference entering play Wednesday.
Muhammad is one of four freshmen to be named to the list of 30 candidates for the award, won last year by Kentucky's Anthony Davis. Allen Crabbe of California is the only other player from the Pac-12 among the 30 candidates.
But something that has really been overlooked by all but a few (Chrisorr excepted) is the defensive play of Jordan Adams.
It would have been a stretch before the season to peg Adams as one of UCLA's top defenders, but that's exactly what he has become. Coach Ben Howland uses Adams to guard the opposing team's top wing player each game and Adams has held his own against such top scorers as California's Allen Crabbe, Washington's C.J. Wilcox and Arizona's Mark Lyons.
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"He's a tough, hard-nosed guy, and he comes from a great high school program," Howland said. "He does all the little things. He throws his body around. He's not afraid to get in there and bang with people."
Crabbe, the conference's leading scorer, was a combined 16-of-37 (43.2 percent) in two games with Adams defending him. Wilcox, a 36 percent 3-point shooter, was 0-for-6 from beyond the arc against the Bruins, and Lyons had a season-high five turnovers and season-low zero assists against the Bruins.
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And Adams has turned into a good defensive player without letting his offense suffer. Adams is second on the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game and has shot 59.5 percent over the past four games. He has nine 20-point games and became the first UCLA freshman to score 20 points or more in each of his first four games.
Is it any wonder why most Bruins Nations fan call Adams their favorite player? But really this game may come down to Parker. According to stories Howland is more positive and so is Parker. Assuming Travis does not play, this will be a true test of both:
But with Parker, Howland has gotten progressively more positive in his evaluations, lauding him especially after his effort against the Trojans. And with his potential for physicality - he's the heaviest scholarship player on the roster by 45 pounds - Parker represents UCLA's best shot to help manage mismatches in the post for the remainder of the season.
"He took so much stuff from everybody: 'You're not playing, how does it feel?'" Howland said. "It was really hard on him early. I can't tell you for a McDonald's All-American, a kid who's had so much success, to keep such a great attitude throughout our season, I just can't say enough about him as a kid. ... I just see how good he's going to be down the road, I really feel that way."
"I'm totally fine," Parker said, smiling. "I'm doing great right now."
Parker still has a long ways to go. He's continually tried to break the habit of dribbling in the post, and Howland says he still needs to slow his game down. But something seemed to turn in the first half against USC - a moment Parker's freshmen teammates saw coming all along.
The Bruins are a half game out of first and have to win tonight.