There used to be a sense earlier this season that this year's edition of UCLA basketball was inconsistent, but we are finding that this couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, the Bruins are the most maddeningly consistent team I've ever seen in their ability to play 20 good minutes out of 40. Whether those minutes come consecutively or alternate in brief periods throughout the game, you can always count on these guys to dog it at least half the time.
This afternoon, the Bruins decided to take the first half off, turning the ball over with yet another inept display of zone offense, and if Oregon wasn't such a terrible team, UCLA could have easily faced a much bigger halftime deficit than 3 points. The Ducks' zone sat in Joshua Smith's lap, determined to take the big man out of the offense, and no one seemed willing to take advantage of what is essentially a 4 on 3 situation with dribble penetration. Content to jack up contested 3's, the Bruins predictably fell behind early. Tyler Honeycutt also no-showed until a couple of assists near the end of the first half, and Reeves Nelson started off the game as a black hole, and picked up two quick fouls, rendering him ineffective (on both ends of the floor). The two goose eggs from our "star" forwards were only offset by good offensive halves from Malcolm Lee and Lazeric Jones, who fought off a shaky start and settled himself down.
So with the bad half out of the way, the Bruins started off their good half right out of the locker room, turning a 3 point deficit into a 4 point lead in the first six minutes. Jerime Anderson may have had the half of his career, chipping in 10 in the second frame. The Bruins, with some help from Honeycutt and no help from Reeves Nelson, began to win the battle of the boards, and were able to hold off some late Oregon challenges to hang on to a 67-59 victory in Eugene (box score).
We've gone over how important a game this was, so I won't reiterate that, but the pathetic production from our forward spots can be either a good sign or a bad sign depending on how you look at it. This season was supposed to rest on the production of our frontcourt, but we ended up winning a game on the road that we were supposed to have a decided frontcourt advantage in all while not getting much from it. If this team has found an alternative way to win, with the Anderson/Lee/Jones lineup that many of us are fond of, it could add a new dimension to this team that could improve our chances of having a successful season. On the other hand, the drop in production from Nelson and Honeycutt is just a continuation of a recent trend, and it's difficult to see how this team is going to pull out enough wins with our "star" forwards playing like garbage for such long stretches. In fact, one of the biggest substitutions of the game was called not by CBH, but by the Superb Pac Ten Refs, fouling out the completely ineffective Reeves Nelson, and forcing CBH to put Smith back into the game, where he promptly had his normal impact of dominating the glass for easy putbacks that help put this game away.
Whichever way you look at the production from this game, it is not likely to matter if this team continues to sleepwalk through entire halves of games. I can't tell you how sick I am of talking about this, but until the Bruins and their coach find a way to get themselves up to play entire games, it's a point that we're going to keep hammering home, because that first half effort; getting beat for offensive rebounds, late to close on shooters, not diving for balls, and generally being outhustled, is unacceptable.
At the end of the day it was a win we needed, but the job is not over. Next must win game is Thursday against Cal.