While far from perfect, UCLA's performance versus Humboldt St. was infinitely better than the one they put on six days ago versus Concordia. It's a good thing too as the Bruins have only five days before the games start to count. With the team almost completely healthy (Tyler Honeycutt was the only Bruin not dressed to play tonight), UCLA can now go ahead full bore and begin to work out the kinks that are all too evident in their play.
Two New Guards- If anyone was questioning how important Michael Roll and Jerime Andersen are to the Bruins, they aren't anymore. While James Keefe played the role of stabilizer in the last game, Roll took on those duties versus Humboldt St. The senior led the Bruins with 17 points on 50% shooting, but most importantly, he was tenacious on defense and ball mover on offense. Roll threw some fantastic entry passes and was quick to get the ball out of his hands to stretch the Humboldt St. defense with ball movement. Meanwhile, Andersen took over the point and maintained complete control of the offense. He kept the pace of the game where the Bruins wanted it for the most part, applied the ball pressure on defense that is so key to Howland's offense and was deadly getting to the rim upon occasion. Surprisingly, he was even able to play 29 minutes despite being sidelined for much of the past few weeks.
Second Half Defense- After a dreadful defensive effort in the first half, UCLA came out in the second half ready to defend. Andersen increased his ball pressure, while Malcolm Lee did a much better job denying his man the ball. This kept the guards from being able to penetrate and forced the Humboldt St. guards from doing much. While poor outside shooting from Humboldt St. did help out the Bruins, the fact that 12 of the starting guards' 16 shots came from behind the arc says something. The Bruin big men also did a better job of working to keep the Humboldt St. bigs away from the rim and on the defensive boards as the Lumberjacks saw their offensive boards cut nearly in half in the second frame. In total, UCLA held Humboldt St. to just 23% shooting in the second half.
Ball Awareness- It appeared as if the UCLA defense had no idea where the ball was last week, but tonight they were on it from the opening tip. UCLA forced 19 Lumberjack turnovers, thanks to Drew Gordon's six steals and three blocks, both team highs. When the ball was on the block, help was coming from all over and hands were on the ball to knock it free. Players also did a good job of reading eyes and passing lanes to make things difficult on the Lumberlacks, forcing turnovers. The ball pressure up top by the guards and high hands forced a lot of lobbed entry passes, which the UCLA big men recognized and got hands to.
Malcolm Lee- The guy who was supposed to be the Bruins' breakout star has struggled to this point, although it is still very early. Lee missed both of his three point attempts and shot just 33% from the field. He did well coming back to the boards to reel in six rebounds and he was five of seven from the free throw line, but he's yet to find his place in the offense. He is a dynamic and athletic player, but he's yet to show the improved jump shot we heard about over the offseason and three turnovers to go with it won't help. He did make a few nice passes, totaling four assists, but he needs to be better if this UCLA team is to thrive. Luckily, there's still plenty of time for him to find his place in the offense and he clearly knows that he's just getting going, as evidenced by the work he put in after the game.
Free Throw Shooting- I guess this is progress because free throw shooting was in the ugly column last week, but it's still not good enough. 22 of 33 from the line is not going to get it done against good teams in close games, especially when UCLA hits the road and has to deal with hostile crowds while toeing the line. This is an athletic team that when clicking offensively, should put pressure on defenses and force teams to foul. That won't mean much though if they can't knock their shots down from the charity stripe.
Nikola Dragovic- Dragovic's mindset was much better in this game than it was last game when he was jacking up a shot anytime he could see the rim. He was a part of the offense in tonight's game, instead of working outside of it, and he moved the ball better so he didn't spend as much time on the ball. That decreased the number of turnovers from Dragovic so overall, he was better today than he was a week ago. The mindset and attitude, especially with the intensity he showed defensively, were a plus. The problem for Dragovic is that he is a shooter first and foremost, but he's not shooting well. Just three for 10 tonight from the field and two of seven from behind the arc, Dragovic got good shots, but couldn't knock them down. Dragovic does have a sweet stroke though so you would have to assume that his shots start falling soon.
Rotations- Especially in the first half, UCLA's rotations were absolutely horrific. I would not want to be a player watching film of the defense's rotations with Howland. Too often, the Lumberjacks were able to turn a simple screen into an easy basket as the hedge forced a rotation that UCLA just did not execute. This was especially true of the screens the Humboldt St. big men were setting for cutting guards at the elbow, only to roll to the basket and get a pass from the wing for an easy bucket. The rotations were getting better as the game went on, but they were still late. The good thing for UCLA is that quick and efficient rotations are something that only comes with experience and practice so it is reasonable to assume they get better in the coming weeks.
Rebounding- Does anybody except for Gordon rebound? It sure didn't seem so tonight. Gordon brought in ten boards and Lee did well to bring in six, but nobody else got more than three. As a team, UCLA was outrebounded 46-38 despite Humboldt St. missing seven more shots than the Bruins. The Lumberjacks had 14 offensive rebounds on the game, eight of which were grabbed by the Humboldt St. center Brian Morris. While Gordon did have 10 rebounds of his own, he did not do well enough boxing out Morris and the eight offensive boards are an example of that. Howland's teams have been built on great defense, but great defense doesn't mean much if you allow offensive rebounds. It is understandable that UCLA struggle to find an offensive rhythm or communicate efficiently early in the season as they gain experience and learn to work together, but they should be able to rebound and tonight they didn't.