There are a lot of things that make UCLA basketball fans angry right now. From the unbalanced roster, the defense, the rebounding, the offense, the coaching, the recruiting, the athletic department administration—the list is impressively long.
It does seem like the winter of UCLA's discontent, after three losses over the last four games with some of the top freshmen in the country on the roster; though some fans still believe in the team and expect to Dance into March.
This set of slides is what came as a response to a challenge: Identify five of the most maddening parts of UCLA basketball to its fans at this moment. The effort toward distilling the anger down to its essence is what follows.
Controlling your opponents' missed shots and recovering your own misses cement to form a foundation block of the game.
To claim you had a good basketball team that did not rebound would be as hard to accept as saying you had built a beautiful building but set one of the corners on top of jack stands and cinder blocks because you ran short of materials.
UCLA has not protected or attacked the windows at either end of the floor well enough. There are important rebounding techniques that have to be worked on in practice, but it is a skill largely built on instinct, effort and attitude.
Rebounding also has been a core performance stat line on all of Ben Howland's best teams. That it has gone away so precipitously and at such crucial moments in games has added fuel to the encampment fires burning outside the perimeter of the programs' walls.
This Bruins' team allows an average of 37.9 total rebounds a game, which places them 296th nationally. They surrender 11.1 offensive rebounds to their opponents, which places them 303rd.
In the last three games they have allowed the opponent to bring down nearly 37 percent of their missed shots. The worst team in the country by percentage, Western Kentucky, allows 40 percent.
In the loss to Arizona State, the Bruins allowed 53 rebounds: 13 offensive and 40 defensive. The team grabbed only 33 of its own, eight offensive and 25 defensive and lost by 18 points.
The Bruins gave up 44 rebounds to USC, 12 offensive and 32 defensive. The team took only 36 of its own, 12 offensive and 24 defensive. The Bruins lost by four points in overtime.
The team has looked soft inside if not overpowered, and the one potential physical inside player, Tony Parker, has not been able to get a handle on himself when he has been on the floor.
The poor rebounding also breaks down the defense, which has forced many first and second shot misses, but then is forced to buckle down for another shot clock sequence after surrendering a rebound. This cumulative effect segues directly into the next slide.
Almost every part of the game that is irritating to the Bruins' fan at this moment has become a double dose because it is something coach Ben Howland is supposed to instill better than other coaches.
The successful Howland squads were oppressive defensive teams that choked off everything their opponents tried using to attack the goal.
Their front-court players' hedges against screens were sometimes forceful enough to discombobulate an entire shot clock sequence.The defense extended, harassed, contested, retracted and then collapsed toward the glass to rebound.
It is effort and technique. A strong team defense is such an amazing thing to watch, like some breathing, living thing synchronized into perfect motion.
This group has not learned to play defense as a team. They are not moving as one unit, hedging, staying down in their stance and keeping their player in front of them; helping off the ball and returning quickly to their man afterward, then boxing out and transitioning to offense.
When it has been bad, it has been a step slow with confused rotations and even a lack of effort from some of the teams best players. The poor effort has cost them games, like last week against USC.
In UCLA's last three losses, the opponent has shot 47 percent, and the Bruins have been beaten by 41 in the rebounding game. The Bruins allow nearly 70 points a game and rank 225th nationally in that category.
Bruins will need this cat to be big down the stretch run.
This is not a tangible category and cannot be measured statistically, but the evidence of it lies in several of the team's worst losses. There have been legitimate defeats this season, but several of them came clearly from a lack of focus over 40 minutes of game and serious deficiencies in effort.
The loss to Cal Poly on Nov. 25 is the most glaring example of losing focus and turning off the effort. The Bruins led by 18 points with under 12 minutes to play and ended up losing by two, 70-68. The players shut it down early and could not reboot it in time to save the game.
Cal Poly is 9-11 on the season and in fifth place in the Big West Conference.
The second really ugly loss was last week at home to USC, the crosstown rival. The Trojans fired their head coach on Jan. 14, lost five of their next seven games and 16 days later came to Pauley Pavilion and beat the Bruins.
USC is 9-13 overall, 4-5 in the conference and 2-6 away from home.
Those two losses, in particular, would indicate an ugly flaw in any team—an inability to bring your best game on nights when you have your opponent outclassed and are expected to win.
UCLA has beaten most of the opponents that they have had outclassed. However, there have been breakdowns much too late in the season to believe that they have gotten over what should be an early season problem for a good team.
There are young players on this roster with a lot of pride in themselves and the program, though, and the second half of the conference season will be the showcase to prove just how much their honor and the teams' glory truly means to them.
The black shirts won in Westwood.
UCLA lost to USC 75-71 on Jan. 30. The defeat was a microcosm of everything that has disillusioned the fan base over the last several seasons. That it was administered by the teams' most bitter rival made it sting like citrus juice poured over a split lip.
The Trojans shot 47.7 percent from the floor and were eight rebounds better than UCLA. The Bruins surrendered critical, absolutely must have offensive boards late in the game and allowed the Trojans second and third opportunities to score.
The team did not defend much of anything well for most of the game and gave the Trojans open shots followed by rebounds off misses. The team made a poor effort to get it going in transition and shot the ball poorly when they had to outscore opponents—as opposed to out-defend them—to win.
The game had the subpar effort, the lack of defense, the poor rebounding, the inconsistent play and the insufficient preparation—everything that is griped about constantly.
The game went to overtime after UCLA made a mad scramble comeback, but it was not a close contest throughout most of the second half. USC is a borderline bad basketball team this year, and judging the game on paper, based on talent, coaching, cohesiveness and past performances, it never should have been close at all.
Everything that Ben Howland had has gone away.
It has become clear that what Howland did to make UCLA basketball a formidable program has been disregarded and forgotten. The conference championships, the Final Fours, the top young guns in the NBA—all of that is being spat at by the hardcore Bruins fan.
When the team wins now, the people say it was in spite of the coaching; when they lose, it is because of it. Just the sight of the man on the sidelines doing what he has always done makes these people clench their jaws in anger.
There is no sympathy or rationality left in anything that happens—whether Coach Howland can control it or not—and the masses who once gathered to adore him and what he did for UCLA have gone to the barn to distribute pitchforks and soak the rags for the torches.
It is a good thing for the work of the world that "the people" are not empowered to make executive decisions, or Howland would have been fired and run out of town after the 2009 season. But the athletic department, something like the Senate, which checks the passions of the hoards elected to two-year terms in the House of Representatives, has a vested interest in looking at the bigger picture and has retained Howland to this point.
But it is the Day of the Locust in Westwood, and unless the arc of this season changes drastically over the next six weeks, the insects will force their way in and strip the branches clean.