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UCLA Hoops Roundup: Better Grow Up Fast Bruins

Coach Ben Howland wants Lazeric Jones #11 of the UCLA Bruins to become the team leader, a position in desperate need of being filled.   (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Coach Ben Howland wants Lazeric Jones #11 of the UCLA Bruins to become the team leader, a position in desperate need of being filled. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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Spoiled brats, mentally soft, house cats, why do I bother watching these guys, etc.  Achilles summed up the frustrations of many here.  These sort of comments are what Bruin fans are writing at Bruins Nation right now.  Coach Ben Howland seemingly agreed in part but added:

"We just have to be mentally tougher," said Coach Ben Howland, whose team takes a two-game losing streak into Gill Coliseum on Thursday against Oregon State. "You should want to run if you're a player, shouldn't you, on offense?"

. . .

At 9-6 overall and 1-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference, the Bruins can only hope this is the low point. "We're headed in the right direction," Howland said.

We hope so coach but let's use a recent missive by Bruins Nation favorite beat writer Jon Gold to identify the four problem areas (emphasis mine throughout the four points).

1.  Maturity (and/or mental toughness]

This team is just nowhere near mature enough to consistently play at a high level.  I'm talking mature in both emotions and physical ability, because the Bruins lacked both on Sunday.  In the second half when UCLA faced any adversity from USC, it caved. Simply caved. Blame the coaches, blame the players, blame whoever. There's enough to go around. Ultimately, it lies with Ben Howland as the architect of the program, but he's not on the court. He can't will Tyler Honeycutt to box out Alex Stephenson on an absolutely crucial offensive rebound and put-back. He can't jump inside Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee and get them to penetrate to the basket. He can't defend for Joshua Smith, who doesn't seem able to defend for himself at times.


Don MacLean tells the story of how he stayed in the gym shooting after a tough loss to USC.  How did Josh Smith deal with it?  By complaining about the reffing and flipping the bird.

After fouling out for a second consecutive game, Smith said "the refs were terrible. The one where I fell and [Nikola] Vucevic fell on me, the refs said, 'Well, I had to call it because you fell.' They're giving me [ridiculous] answers. They're telling me this, this and this. I mean, I'm a guy who will own up to it when I foul."

Howland reviewed tape of the game with Smith and said Tuesday there was only one call that could be questioned.

"So he's got to grow up and learn that that's uncalled for and inappropriate."

When he met with the media Tuesday, Smith apologized for his comments and for giving the middle finger to a USC fan who had yelled a personal remark about his family after the game.

Smith is going to get some bad calls against him.  After his reaction in the SUC game, he is going to get some more verbal assaults.  As with much of this team, he has to stop whining and start playing.  Take out your frustration on the exercise bike Josh. 

2.  Leadership

Gold goes on to rail about the lack of leadership.   A problem that you don't need to attend any games to realize.  But I think his most interesting point may be about Reeves. 

This team has no one, not a single player, who commands the huddle, who rises above and wills the team to follow him.  I thought Tyler Honeycutt could become that even as a sophomore, but he has not shown that instinct yet. Malcolm Lee doesn't appear to be the vocal type. Reeves Nelson's issues have been well-documented, but I also think they've been blown out of proportion, and he gets too much blame for his "attitude." Zeke Jones is still fighting the uphill battle of being a relatively lightly heralded junior college transfer, and his backup, Jerime Anderson, still can't get over the hump.  With a coach like Ben Howland, there needs to be at least one or two guys - and in the past, there were a lot more than one or two - who can get in a huddle and take control. Howland is a demanding coach to play for, but a coach can only say or do so much; he needs a player who commands as much respect as he does, and he does not have that now.

Where are you JF, AA or even DC? It is interesting who CBH thinks should the leader:

The Bruins are a team without a senior and, at times, one without a leader. Howland said he wanted Lazeric Jones to shoulder that responsibility, but the junior college transfer acknowledged it's a role he's growing into.

"I have to step up and be a leader and get my team together when people get down on themselves or the team," Jones said. "I'll try my best to do better as we go on."

Lazeric did a nice job against UCI stepping up and played well against WSU.  It was bad luck that he hurt his finger but if he is a leader he will overcome that as well.  

3.  Conditioning

I for one am beginning to believe that Reeves Nelson may be the most out of shape Bruin in years and that is on a team with Josh Smith.  Sure he can run great for a while and plays well in spurts (including okay on D) but the guy can't make a layup when he is tired and even move on D.  Reeves barely bothers to go up and down the court when he is tired.   The Daily Bruin wrote an article in which they call him  "Half Nelson" where CBH says:

“Absolutely with Reeves, it’s like a diminishing return,” Howland said. “It’d be better to play him 30 minutes than 35 minutes, or 28 minutes than 34 minutes. He gets more out of himself playing a few less minutes.”

Gold mentions another player that seems to have some major issues on conditioning:

Then there's Malcolm Lee, who has regressed tremendously this season. I think Lee is expending much too much energy on defense, but with so many defensive issues on the team, he sort of has to. Problem is, his offensive skill set has taken a step back, it seems. He scored just five point against the Trojans, and in UCLA's five biggest games this season - against Villanova, Kansas, BYU, Washington and USC - Lee has scored 43 points, or about 8.5 per game. In the Bruins' other nine games, he's averaging 14.2 ppg.

Ah, both AAs had no problem playing hard both ways.  Come on Lee.

4.  CBH Player Rotations

We are 3 games into the PAC 10 and I have no idea what the lineups or rotations are going to be at a given moment.  With only nine scholarship players, you would think it would be easy but at times it just does not make sense.  If it does not make sense to a fan, that is okay.  But I wonder how the players feel. 

IMHO, players need to know where they stand and need to know their roles.  This may be the cause of part of the tentativeness that is coming from players like Tyler Lamb. Players like Tyler may be the feeling that if they make a mistake they are going to be yanked and not play at all or less.  If players know their roles, they will feel more comfortable. 

While the Jones' injury does create some uncertainty, Jon Gold details one of the more extreme ridiculous lineup examples during the SC game:

Howland had curious rotation patterns during the game, and at one point, the Bruins had a lineup out there that was about as threatening as bunnies on morphine. In the second half, with UCLA only down 36-34, Howland fielded a lineup of Jerime Anderson, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt, Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover. So you have the most passive point guard on the team, paired with perhaps the most offensively passive power forward in college basketball, paired with perhaps the most offensively passive center in college basketball. And, on a night when Honeycutt had no touch and Lee couldn't get to the basket.  Shortly after, UCLA was down 45-37 and would get no closer than four points the rest of the way.

Coach always picked and played 7 or 8 players.  If you weren't in those 7 or 8, your contribution to the team was in practice.  The reason he did this was so that those seven or eight would learn to play together as a team in all combinations.  Coach said this was the only coaching change between the good years pre-national championships and the great years of many National Championship.  Prior to that he practiced the first 5 as a unit.  

While the Jones' injury does cause some problems, I am willing to bet that the lineup described above has not practiced  together as a unit.  Yet, CBH threw them out there against a tough defensive team relatively early in the second half.  CBH needs to fix his rotations now. 

The Bruins must win their next four games or else this season is an unacceptable NIT run or worse.   The players need to grow up and CBH needs to help them do it. 

Go Bruins.