I wanted to take a day or more to put my personal perspective on the LMU game from Friday night. As with many UCLA fans, I felt this was yet another tough weekend. But while the Utah game can hardly come as a surprise (in four years RN has won just three conference road games), the LMU basketball loss was a shock.
Many people are using the game to bring out their complaints/grievances against the UCLA administration, certain players, the commitment to defense, recruiting, even the player's shoes, you name it. Some are equating the problems in football with basketball saying they are now soccer fans or some such because UCLA football and basketball are too hard to watch.
For what is worth, my thoughts are twofold: (1) this is the first game of the season of a team that is 40% new starters and (2) I don't care if it is first game of the season, we should not lose to LMU. So comparing football to basketball on point one, I am more upset about football that we still can't win on the road and are getting beaten by 25 in ugly fashion this late in the season by a bad team. However, on point two, in football we may have looked bad against an inferior talented team, like San Jose State at the start of the season, but we still won on talent alone, unlike Friday against LMU.
Some will say it was because our defense was terrible. To me that is a point one above. To me the defense was a C-. In other words, it was bad but I am willing to accept that was an early season issue. Put it this way: in summer league, playing with the pros in pick-up games on campus, etc., you do not practice team defense. It takes a while to pull that together. Also, LMU shot 38.6% from two for the game. That is not bad defense. We blocked 6 shots and Josh Smith, while terrible on offense, for example, had three blocks and was doing good IMO on defense.
Now LMU did shoot 66% from downtown. Some of that was bad defense but some of that was a ridiculously hot team from beyond the arc. Senior LMU big man Ashley Hamilton was 1-13 for his career from three, having not made a three since his freshman year, but went 2-3 in the game. There is no one, including LMU fans, who could have anticipated that. So maybe the defense while bad, was not horrid as some will say given the time in the season. This is point one.
However, I don't care: when we play LMU we should score more than 58 points.
Last year we scored 58 or fewer points one time: a 57-44 win over Pacific. That was the second game of a back to back series and we were tired but we won and played very good defense. 58 points against LMU is completely unacceptable. Moreover, we looked beyond bad in doing it. I would give our offense an F, and only that high because I can't go lower. This is point two.
If our offense was just a C- like the defense, we win the game. First on stats: we shot 40%, including 13% from three. But worse, with our huge size advantage, LMU still shot and made more free throws. That should almost never happen this season. We also had a rebound advantage of just four. Yep, our starting small forward is bigger than any player on the LMU team, yet we could only win the boards battle by four.
But stats don't tell the story. This was the worst looking offense I have seen from a Bruin team since Lavin's last year.
It's starts with Zeek Jones. Zeek was terrible in every way. If this was the first game last year, I would be in full on panic mode. He looked like a bad JC transfer who did not belong at this level and Anderson fans and others are going to say he is not a PG. However, Zeek was very good at times last year and this was not the Zeek I had learned to like. What happened?
Well, first of all Zeek has had terrible games before. He went 0-7 against USC and Arizona and 1-9 against Washington State on the road. He also went 0-6 with 6 TOs against St. John's at home last year. In other words, maybe it was not just Zeek's injured hands that caused him to have terrible games. I know against Arizona and St. John's, he lost his cool. For the LMU game he had his high school teammate and NBA superstar Derrick Rose watching. Was he pressing too hard for that reason? Does he feel he has to be the leader, instead of last year when he seemed to understand his role? Regardless, we went 2-2 those games listed above last year and all those teams are much better than LMU. I tend to think Zeek will be good again but in any case if this happens in any other game this season, we can turn to Anderson. In conclusion, Zeek was terrible, but his problems alone don't explain the absolute disaster on offense and maybe (hopefully) they are not going to happen often again.
So what else was the problem? Some UCLA fans turn to blame Reeves Nelson any time effort comes into the equation, often for good reason. But to understand Reeves' problems in this game, I think you have to look at the Wears. Some will say the Wears carried us in the first half scoring 20 of our 33 points. Well the Wears also failed to do something else: pass the ball. Every time a Wear touched the ball you knew he was going to shoot. They took 16 of UCLA's first half shots and had 0 assists. If you look at the game comments in the first half, you will see a lot of comments saying "where's Reeves?" The fact of the matter is the Wears, Travis and David, were the top two options in the offense because when they got the ball they shot.
One can say the Wears kept us in the game but I think they destroyed UCLA's offensive identity. That first half Smith had one shot in six minutes compared to Travis' 8 shots in 9 minutes. Nelson had 4 in 16 minutes to David's 8 in 18. Admittedly David made some long jumpers, but I do not think it is good for the team to rely on David Wear's shooting from just inside the three point line.
To go further it hurt because UCLA was not shooting free throws. Just think if Smith or Nelson were shooting inside they are likely to draw fouls on LMU. They are both good at drawing fouls. LMU's star big Ashley Hamilton may not have been able to play the minutes that led to his career game or maybe even just tire his legs enough for him to miss those three pointers.
But of course this is Reeves we are talking about so how did he deal with the fact the Wears were shooting the ball every time they touched it? He did what you do in the Say No League and other summer leagues; he dribbled the ball coast to coast and shot every time he got the ball. In the first half Reeves had two assists and no three point tries. In the second half he had no assists and three ugly looking three point attempts. Reeves' "solution" to the problem of the Wears not passing and Jones being very off was to shoot every time he could. Note, in the exhibition game Reeves did hit three outside shots. All were plays when he took his time and took advantage of the fact he was left alone. In this game he literally just chucked up shots from three.
The offensive problems, of course, did not end there. Our biggest offensive weapon, Josh Smith, took four shots and only shot 2 FTs. Both numbers are unacceptable. Some are going to harp on foul trouble, I don't think that was the whole problem. UCLA looked completely unprepared for the most obvious strategy to stop Josh, collapse on him in zone or man-to-man.
Smith also looked unprepared. In the Arizona game last year, the "perfect game", Josh passed beautifully out of double teams including to Reeves going to the basket for his career high in assists. Against LMU, Josh seemed confused and frustrated by double and triple teams and his teammates were not helping him.
These problems better be fixed and fixed fast. It is not acceptable to have UCLA look like it had not practiced offense yet this season. If the Wears are option 1 and 1A in the offense, then people like Reeves have to deal with it or get benched. If the Wears are not, they better learn to start passing first and taking what is giving them instead of just shooting the ball every time they touch it. The real option one, Josh Smith, better understand that he has a bulls-eye on him every night. Both Josh and the team better be ready to deal with it starting on the next game.
The players can complain all they want about the Sports Arena but the fact of the matter is fans won't want to watch this even on TVs in their homes. Football is bad and RN is rightly in trouble, but if CBH keeps playing like this against teams that any UCLA scholarship player would start for, CBH will be in trouble as well.