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UCLA Basketball Roundup: Can the Bruins Bounce Back?

UCLA put up a valiant effort on the road against Stanford but gave up in the second half on defense against Cal. The moral is simple: no UCLA team can let an oponent shoot 64% and expect to win. And it was not like Allen Crabbe or Jorge Gutierrez where killing UCLA, it was guys that should not even be playing much such as David Kravish (filling in for the injured Richard Solomon) and some guy named Robert Thurman who went 5-5 and in making five buckets almost equaled his season total (6). UCLA's defense was terrible.

"Cal just scored too easily," Coach Ben Howland said. "Whether it was against our man or our zone, they just scored so easily."

The Golden Bears shot 65.4% from the field and had 28 assists on 34 baskets, a sign that the Bruins couldn't disrupt Cal's rhythm. Six Golden Bears scored in double figures, led by Allen Crabbe's 20 points.

"They just continued to score time after time after time," he [Howland] said. "We were just slow."

More on this after the jump. But this sets up a tough situation. I wrote before the Bay Area trip that a split means we have a shot at the Pac-12 title and a NCAA tournament bid, two losses mean NIT, which is unacceptable. The Bruins know that and as Tyler Lamb said:

"Coming back, it's going to be very hard but it has to be done," he said. "I'm pretty sure everybody in that locker room wants to turn the season around. From this point every game is a must-win game."

Peter Yoon at ESPN elaborates a bit

What it means: The Bruins opened Pac-12 play 0-2 for the first time since 1987-88. The Bruins actually started 0-3 in conference that year, but recovered to finish 12-6 and tied for second in the conference but did not make the NCAA tournament. Coach Walt Hazzard was fired after that season.

The Bruins continue a tough opening stretch against Arizona Thursday at the Honda Center in a game the Bruins almost certainly have to win if they are going to get the season turned around and make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.

Why is this happening? UCLA was able to stay with Cal in the first half because of the hot shooting of Tyler lamb. Similar to the Stanford game where we were close because of Lazeric Jones. But at the end of the day, these two are not AA who can carry a team by themselves and the rest of the team is looking nonathletic and not up to this level. As Yoon explains in a different piece on the searching Bruins:

Their front court was lauded as among the most formidable in the nation with 6-10 twins David and Travis Wear boasting a front line that included a rising star at center in Joshua Smith and an all-conference forward in Reeves Nelson.

The Wear twins have proven wildly inconsistent on the offensive end and are a defensive liability. Smith has failed to live up to expectations because of conditioning issues and an inability to handle double teams in the post. Nelson was kicked off the team because of continuing behavioral issues.

So with the front court failing to live up to expectations, the backcourt has picked up some of the slack. Jones and Tyler Lamb have been the two most reliable payers, but both have been up and down as they try to do too much at times and the team has no true go-to clutch player.

Thus it comes down to defense. Going into the Cal game, UCLA had held 5 straight opponents (including Stanford) under 40%, but Cal destroyed UCLA for 65.4%. But it was worse than that:

They are also insecure in who they want to be defensively. Howland prefers the tough man-to-man style that brought him so much success at UCLA, but the current team lacks the speed and athleticism to play that style on a consistent basis. It's much better suited to a zone, but Howland has alternated zone and man defenses, creating even more confusion around UCLA's identity.

Jerime Anderson and the Wears are just too slow to play man-to-man. Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb are better but are not stoppers. Right now Smith is horrid and foul prone if he has to move too much. There are solutions but it may force Howland out of his comfort zone. Being a zone first team. But if he insists on man-to-man only doing so with Norman Powell in for Anderson and Anthony Stover for Smith.

Otherwise it does not matter how well the Bruins play on offense for as Howland said:

Somehow, the Bruins trailed just 40-39 going into the intermission despite shooting just 43.3 percent in the first half.

"The first half we played pretty well offensively to keep it to a one-point game, but when you keep letting a team score every time they have the ball, eventually you're digging a hole for yourself," Howland said.

Go Bruins