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Going Through The Motions

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The day after another humiliating and dispiriting loss, this is what is bothering me the most about our basketball program. There is no passion and intensity in Howland's basketball program:

Two days ago, Arizona was held to 30% shooting by USC (who from what I saw, played man-to-man defense.) Today, that same Arizona team shot 48.3%. You can’t convince me that the roster at USC is that incredibly athletically superior to ours, so I’m led to believe that the difference in defensive effectiveness comes down to effort, teamwork, desire, and coaching. I never thought I’d see the day when a Howland-led team was deficient in all of those areas, but sad to say, that was the reality today. I wish we could write it off as an aberration, but it’s the same thing that we saw in the contests vs Miss St and Long Beach State.

I know people here are clamoring for more zone, but no defense is going to be effective if it’s played at half speed. No defense is going to be effective if players aren’t communicating. No defense is going to be effective if you can’t secure a rebound.

That was from insomniacslounge who also pointed to the other issue of no sense of consistent accountability in the current Howland coached basketball team:

I’m also surprised that people are lauding Dragovic as the player of the game (even if it’s only by default). Yes, he got fouled in the post and made his free throws, but from my vantage point, he set the tone for the lackluster performance today. He missed all of his outside shots once again, was not an effective rebounder, and was constantly torched on defense…again. And once again, he was the only player not held accountable by Coach Howland. If Honeycutt, Anderson, Nelson, Keefe etc. made a bad play, they were given the hook. For Dragovic, there were no repercussions. And he knows it. This was evident by the no-look touch pass he delivered in the last minute of the game when catching the ball and making a layup was the only play to make. Granted, the game was effectively over by then, but it just boggled my mind that he went for a flashy play in that circumstance.

I have written enough about the second point in recent weeks. I don't think I need to expand any more on that for now. So I will try to discuss the first one a little more.

Arizona, Mississippi State, Long Beach State are not the only games during which this UCLA team has played without any sense of passion and urgency. I saw the same during every other game this season. I believe this year we have barely played one game - against New Mexico State - during which we played passionate, tenacious Ben Ball defense for an entire game. Otherwise, in every other game the team gave an incomplete and consistently inconsistent effort of one good half paired up with an awful. In number of instances it looked like - at least in my eyes - bunch of players, who were going through the motions in UCLA basketball uniform and had completely tuned out their head coach. Something is going on here which is not comforting. It is a reality and it's something we can't be in denial over.

I agree with insomniacs that it's just not a matter of playing zone or man-to-man. It's about players believing in what the coaches are teaching and then implementing it with total buy in on the basketball court. In the Lee thread, we also discussed about the total lack of leadership in this basketball team. That brings me back to the point of Dragovic. Dragovic in some possessions looked a little "alive" during the disastrous and deciding first half against Arizona. However, that is not a complement to Dragovic as much as it is an indictment on the rest of the team. For the first time since Howland's first year in Westwood, there is ZERO LEADERSHIP in this basketball team. There is no one in this team who in essence is an extension of Howland on the basketball court.

Since his second year up until now Howland has had at least one (or more) players who were pretty much extensions of himself on the basketball court and fully embraced his philosophy. They were

04-05: AA, JF,
05-06: AA, JF, LRMAM, DC
06-07: AA, LRMAM, DC, RW
07-08: DC, LRMAM, RW
08-09: DC

I didn't include KL in that category (even though I like him a lot) is because KL wasn't here long enough. But you can see the picture. There is no upperclassmen in this basketball team who measures up the leadership skills of above reference Ben Ball warriors. There is no one from class of 2009. Perhaps Malcolm Lee could be that guy but we just haven't seen signs of them yet. I am hopeful about Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson. However, they don't have the presence AA and JF did their first year. In Honeycutt's case he just hasn't had the time on court.

The problem I am seeing is Howland since his 04-05 year when he gave freshmen lot of room to operate (out of necessity) hasn't afford the same luxury to ensuing freshmen classes (except for players such as Love and Holiday). Our freshmen are often too tentative because they are playing afraid of that quick hook, while guys like Dragovic get to roam around with zero sense of accountability. That results in formation of a core that is passive, unsure and what appears to be uninspired on a consistent basis.

Right now our guys are going through the motions. They know they are not athletic enough to play man-to-man defense. Yet they are playing it and producing half hearted results. Not sure if they are going to be fired up enough when Howland even decides to switch to zone and it showed through the effort yesterday afternoon at Pauley. All of this is being compounded by the fact that there is no leadership whatsoever on the basketball court.

While players should be held accountable for lack of effort and desire on the court, we also need to think hard about Howland's responsibility in all of this. After all he is the caretaker of Coach Wooden's basketball program. And right now it is going through the motions. Not an acceptable picture if you are an alum, student and fan of UCLA basketball.

Don't get me wrong. I still support Coach Howland. He is an exceptional coach. One of the best in game. However, that doesn't mean we have to be quiet when we see something is not quiet right. Something seems to be off and it is healthy to talk out loud about it instead of pretending everything is all right. It is not.