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Hoops Impressions: Dead Pauley, Defense First Mindset & Other UCLA Notes

Except for diehards in the Bruin Den, Pauley has been embarrassingly dead. <a href="" target="new">Photo Credit: b d</a>
Except for diehards in the Bruin Den, Pauley has been embarrassingly dead. Photo Credit: b d

As usual DC Bruins already put together some excellent game notes to get us ready for tonight's late game against Pacific (Good Lord it is going to be late for many of us out East). The game against Pacific is going to be a serious challenge and frankly Bruins are going to be in serious trouble if they come out with lackadaisical intensity they showed during the first half of last night's game against Pepperdine.

I thought I share some general impressions based on the first televised game after the jump. At this point we should take these notes simply as issues to keep in mind rather than reaching any conclusions. We will know more about this team in next 10-12 games. Before I get to the game observations though, I wanted to shine spotlight on the crowd at Pauley.

The crowd at Pauley looked dead. We could sense that there was maybe couple of hundred (?) die hard students in the Den, doing their part to get into the game and give support to our team. Overall though  the atmosphere in the House that Coach Wooden built looked stale, boring and frankly a seemed to do a huge disservice to the legacy of Coach. Coach Ben Howland talks a lot about how he is the "Caretaker" of our program. Well I think taking care of this program entails more than recruiting, coaching up his student athletes. I think Howland needs to think really hard about how he can work with Morgan Center to liven up the atmosphere at Pauley.

There are number of ways for UCLA Athletic Department to fill up Pauley. For games like Pepperdine and Cal State Northridge, instead of charging UCLA students the usual season packages to get into the games, the Morgan Center needs to think hard about how to fill up that court with freshmen and underclassmen. This will require out of the box thinking, including incentivizing the opportunities to attend games at Pauley. It will also require Ben Howland, Dan Guerrero, and the entire UCLA administration to go on a nonstop campaign mode to play up the tradition of UCLA basketball, what it means to our school, and attending games at Pauley should be part of the culture in Westwood.

Just simply saying "We're UCLA" is not good enough. I am sure there are lots more ideas that we can come up with to get Pauley charged up and liven the place up. I wanted to bring it up above the fold, because what we saw on TV was really depressing and huge disservice to the program built by Coach Wooden.

I would also add just putting the responsibility on the UCLA administration doesn't absolve the responsibilities on us - UCLA alums living in Southern California area - for not attending the games. If you are a Bruin alum living in Southern California area, you have no standing to complain about our attendance. You need to show up and root for the team. More after the jump.

Just like Coach Howland cannot expect to fill up Pauley by simply uttering "We're UCLA," our guys need to scrap the mindset of playing like bunch of entitled athletes who think the other team will just roll over and fold just because they are taking on the four letters and John and Nell Wooden Court.

I doubt this year's team will end up being like last year's team in terms of playing like bunch of malcontent, spoiled brats. The toxic influence from last year's team is gone. Although, I don't put too much credence on the pre-season chemistry, feel good chatter, I do want to be cautiously optimistic that this year's team is going to "bring it" every game.

It was a little disconcerting to see our guys sort of going through the motions in the first half against Pepperdine. I was seeing the same lazy passes, aimless dribbling and lackadaisical defensive efforts (except for some brief spurts of activities from Joshua Smith who quickly got in foul trouble). Thankfully the Bruins woke up in the second half, and just like the classic Howland coached team from his early years, took control of the game by committing themselves to defense. It was a defensive stand from Reeves Nelson, resulting a 3 point play from Zeke Jones, which got the (defensive) party started in second half. From there on Nelson (who frankly was lollygagging a lot on the defensive end) help the Bruins take control of the game with another defensive block. I think the Bruins will have a decent shot at reestablishing their identity as "Ben Ball warriors" if they can bring that effort consistently and not wait for wake up calls like a Chuck Bullough coached defense.

Some other notes from last night's game:

  • Zeke Jones is nowhere close to being an elite point guard. Not even close. That said after what I saw last night, the hope remains alive that he can be as serviceable as someone like Cameron Dollar. I really liked the energy with which he plays this game. He will have his issues with speedy guards, but he is out there playing tough on both ends of the court. It was also clear that he was not afraid to be vocal in terms of leading the team on the court and at the sidelines. Haven't seen that from a Bruin pg since the days of DC.
  • As for Jerime Anderson, there is not much to say. I think his window of having any shot at starting for UCLA again is closing fast. If he doesn't pick it up in next few games, I think it will be pretty clear that Zeke Jones is going to be leading the team for rest of the season. Of course that doesn't mean Zeke should be relaxing either. Also, while I doubt Howland will insert Carlino in the lineup tonight, I'd like to see him get 5-7 minutes during this OOC season when we take on teams like Montana, Cal Poly and UC Davis. I mean if Anderson doesn't improve in next 2-4 games, I am not sure if Carlino can be any worse.
  • Needless to say Joshua Smith needs to figure out a way to stay in the game. The complexion of the game is different when he is on the court. He looked lot more polished than I thought he was going to be in his first games on the offensive side. Then again we need to keep the quality of the opponent in mind as well as Pepperdine didn't have any imposing bigs in their frontline. On the defensive side, Smith is playing with more energy than we saw from KL. He just needs to figure out a way to play with a little more control.
  • Didn't understand at all why Coach Howland had Honeycutt in there during the last 2 mins of the game when he seemed pretty gassed and tired. He is a special player. While he need to cut down on his TOs, our offense needs to flow through him.
  • FT shooting was ugly last night. Bruins were 14 for 25 from the FT line (56%). They shot 62.5% (20 for 32) against CSUN. That is not going to get it done. FT was a big issue last year and if we don't address during non conference season, it is going to burn us during the Pac-10 season.

As mentioned by DC Bruins and up top, tonight is going to be a big challenge. I am pretty sure Pacific is going to come into this game fully convinced that they are going to win. On our end it is unclear right now whether Malcolm Lee is going to be available (thank God his x-ray was negative). Even without him though, if our guys come in wanting it more and with a defense-first mindset, I think we could have a decent shot at planning a trip to MSG.

Now only if UCLA could figure out a way to fill up Pauley and charge up our team. See you guys at the game thread, which will go up around 8:00 pm PST.