UCLA is a better team then last year. But UCLA is still a ways from being a "good" team or good enough for a UCLA team. First, as Patroclus wrote the Bruins fought all game. Last year’s team would have folded
The team was having issues on the court (an unthinkable 2-6 start) and off the court (Drew Gordon quit and eventually headed to New Mexico; J'mison Morgan was a bust and eventually headed to Baylor). But none of that seems to matter now. The Bruins, who play VCU in today's NIT third-place game (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. ET), are devoid of dissension and look to be much improved from last season's 14-18 debacle. Granted, they are young and inexperienced in some key spots and not nearly up to the level they were in going to three straight Final Fours in 2006-08. . . .
"We're much better than a year ago," Howland said of the Bruins, who went 8-10 in the Pac-10 and failed to reach the postseason. "It was hard to watch last year's team while getting ready to play Pepperdine again. We're more athletic and have a better point guard."
After playing VCU in New York, the team faces the daunting task of traveling to Lawrence to face Kansas and its national-best 63-game home winning streak. The only other projected NCAA team on the Bruins' nonconference schedule is BYU in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim next month. That means if the Bruins don't win the Pac-10 tournament, even a high finish would guarantee nothing without some notable nonconference wins. . . .
"The key is for this group to stay together next year," Howland said. "A year from now with the Wears eligible and all these guys coming back, assuming we continue to grow and build, then this could be a very good team. We lose nobody. We have no seniors."
The last comment is interesting. I will let that be for now. However, the lost to VCU and the PAC 10’s fall from an elite conference (UW has lost 2 tough games and CAL only scored 5 in the first half last night), means UCLA has to beat BYU later in the year and may have to win the PAC 10 Tourney or conference to go to the Tourney. The PAC 10 may only get two teams again.
So the Bruins need to grow up and be very good come PAC 10 time.
"This team we have has to develop," Howland said after UCLA lost to the Rams, 89-85, in the consolation game of the 2010 Pre-Season NIT at Madison Square Garden Friday afternoon. UCLA (3-2) will look back on their Thanksgiving excursion to New York City as a missed opportunity. The Bruins never had a lead in the 80 minutes they were on the court with Villanova (on Wednesday) and the Rams (4-1), but still had chances to win both games.
"This is a process," Howland said. He emphasized front court rebounding, defense, drawing fouls, not spotting opponents early leads, taking intelligent shots early in games and ball security as areas of improvement for his team. UCLA turned the ball over 21 times compared to the Rams' 13, and VCU turned those additional possessions into 24 points. "I think we'll be able to score. I think we'll have a team that can be able to put some points up on the board. But it doesn't do any good (when) we're putting up 85 tonight and the other team had four more. Eighty-nine points allowed is hard to win a lot of games."
Before the game, I talked a lot to the VCU fans. From the VCU perspective, the game was supposed to be up to whether their press could make us turn the ball over and hit their threes. This is what happen in the second half but in the first they dominated inside to open the game. This is a major problem. We have too much size and ability inside to have this happen.
The Rams burned UCLA inside the paint and out for much of the first 20 minutes, leading to the early benching of Bruins freshman Joshua Smith for what appeared to be defensive lapses. But his teammates weren't much better against small, quick VCU.
At the game I could see Reeves Nelson making a better effort. Both his first half fouls were for blocks when he slid over just a bit late. Reeves is probably one of the players CBH was talking about regretting playing zone last year because it hurt development. Reeves needs to keep working on it and at least he is talking right.
UCLA has now lost five straight regular-season neutral-site games. Still, there is much more hope in the Bruins’ locker room.
"We just have to get better on defense,’’ said UCLA sophomore forward Reeves Nelson. "We’re starting to play a lot of good teams. We also have to get off on better starts. We got down 8-0 right away [against VCU]. We’re better than last year. And these games will help us. If we can go to Kansas and win, that would give us great momentum going into the Pac-10.’’
The Bruins do have one other marquee nonconference game prior to Pac-10 play, against projected NCAA team BYU at the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim. But if UCLA loses to Kansas -- coupled with the losses to Villanova and VCU here in New York -- then it will put even more pressure on beating BYU so that their entire at-large profile isn’t based solely on how they fare in a still-struggling Pac-10.
Not sure about winning at Kansas but let’s keep improving on defense and on our starts if we want to not be playing in the post season NIT:
Jones said the Bruins are feeling the growing pains all young teams must endure.
"You have to go through things like this to come out and succeed in the end," he said. "It's not a [sprint], it's a marathon."
Of course, it never helps to give your opponent a big head start.