Ouch. That was ugly. I think we were all braced for an up and down season with inconsistencies, poor performances and plays that make you scratch your head, but needing a late three to top Concordia by one in an exhibition game? I don't think anyone expected that. UCLA has a lot to fix, from the coaches on down to the players and getting Michael Roll, Jerime Andersen and Brendan Lane won't be enough, although it will most definitely help.
James Keefe- In my opinion, Keefe was the Bruins' best player on the night. He knocked down a couple threes, was sound on his rotations and was strong on the boards, not just getting rebounds himself, but also boxing people out so teammates could rebound. This senior came to play and while he wasn't spectacular, he was solid all the way around and was a stabilizing force on a team that clearly lacked stability. It was nice to see one guy out there that you knew what you were going to get from him and it was clear from the opening tip who the senior on the court was.
Drew Gordon- He led UCLA in scoring with 17 on 8-11 shooting and was also the Bruins' top rebounder with 11. Gordon showed a much improved outside shot and feel for the game, jumping some passing lanes and even delivering some outstanding passes. He was very active and was able to get a tip to some rebounds, keeping them alive for others. While Gordon still have moments where he is out of control, I think that he was better than he was last season. He will always be a bit out of control, but that is okay because it will play him into as many plays as it plays him out of.
Pac-10 Logo- The John and Nell Wooden Court now has a Pac-10 logo out of bounds along the baseline. I assume that this will be on the floor of every Pac-10 school and I'm glad. While I don't think it looks great, it's a step in the right direction for the conference. Having the logo on the court gives the conference some brand recognition and helps to promote the conference, something other conferences have been doing for years, but the Pac-10 has been well behind on. New commissioner Larry Scott has the right idea and is moving in the right direction, even if the look isn't the greatest.
Coaching- Admittedly, this is a bit unfair because Ben Howland and Co. were coaching as much to teach and get a feel for the team as they were to win, but the coaching staff will have to adjust to this team. We've discussed Howland's offense in the past and I've defended it, but I think that he will have to change things up some this year. The offense is dependent on strong all-around players, good decisions and precision. Because of this team's youth, those things will be hard to come by and the athleticism on this team is unmatched by any past UCLA teams, making the offense not the best fit for the team. Too often tonight we saw players in the wrong spot and players in situations that don't suit their strengths. This team needs to create space all the way around and let the players' athleticism go to work, not create room in specific areas and put all players in all places, as is the case in Howland's offense. Howland's offense is effective, just not as well suited to this team as past teams. Using it some, but add and change some things up as well.
Communication- It wasn't a rare sight for a Concordia player to get a bucket, then see the UCLA players looking at each other pointing at things as they tried to figure out what happened. The switches were sloppy and too often players were surprised by screens because no teammate called out the pick. Many, although not all, of the defensive miscues could be traced to a lack of communication. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, UCLA threw a number of passes to a player who wasn't looking for the ball. They threw passes to expected cuts that weren't being made and they set screens that went unused. Now, you could attribute all of this lack of communication on both ends of the floor to the injuries that kept players from practicing together, nerves or the youth, but it needs to get better.
Mustafa Abdul-Hamid- I don't want to pick on a walk-on who has worked his tail off, but there's no way to possibly overlook the game Abdul-Hamid had tonight. Sure, he hit the game-winning three pointer, but the fact that he easily makes the ugly list despite that big shot gives you an idea just how poor he was. He finished with seven turnovers and had the Bruins not been such a superior athletic team, it would have easily been double digits. Abdul-Hamid spent an inordinate amount of time on the ball and was beaten badly on some cuts, including one late that allowed Concordia to stop a Bruin run. Jerime Andersen and Mike Roll better get healthy soon and those two, along with Malcolm Lee need to stay healthy all year long because Abdul-Hamid, for all his effort and pluck, will not cut it against decent teams.
Tentative Offense- I've already mentioned that I think the coaching staff will have to adjust their offense to this team, but that doesn't account for all of the offense's struggles. Even running an offense that they aren't perfectly suited for and routinely struggling to execute the offense, there were openings to be aggressive within the offense and the players were too tentative to take advantage. Tyler Honeycutt showed promise and vision going to the rim, but he passed up three openings to take it to the middle. Lee finally showed aggressiveness late, but early on he passed up a couple open shots, while Mike Moser passed up a wide open lane to the rim and an open 12 foot jumper. The inexperience showed as the players were thinking so much out there that they were overly tentative. Loosening up and getting aggressive will be key next Tuesday.
Nikola Dragovic- While Keefe was doing a good job playing the role of senior, Dragovic did not look the part. He tried to take the lead, launching 13 shots, but he made only three. He didn't show any aggressiveness going up in the paint and he had five turnovers. Yeah, Abdul-Hamid had seven, but he was on the ball for huge chunks of time. Dragovic has no such excuse. Trying to take the lead is nice from the senior, but you've gotta follow through and Dragovic did not do that. He looked like an over-eager freshman out there.
Free Throw Shooting- Dragovic did one thing well on the night and that was convert from the charity stripe, where he hit five of six. Despite his five of six effort, the team finished just 9-19 on the night. Reeves Nelson was poorest on the team, going 0-4, although he did show some promise and great tenacity when not at the line. Keefe missed a free throw, Honeycutt missed his only chance and Abdul-Hamid missed both of his chances. This team isn't what we've gotten used to at UCLA and they will be in their share of close games so free throwing shooting will be paramount. 9-19 won't get it done.