Loyola Marymount 69, UCLA 58
One team displayed a dominant frontcourt, an effective backcourt and all-around intensity in a big season opener.
The other team was UCLA.
In game they were supposed to control from start to finish, the 20th-ranked Bruins lost the initiative early and never quite got it back. To say they played terribly would not be an exaggeration, but alarmed UCLA fans should factor in first-game jitters to their overall critique.
To be fair, it was the first game of a long season. What we witnessed in the Sports Arena was a team that hadn’t played many competitive games together, and it showed. Their chemistry will improve as the season goes on, allowing the offense to execute more cleanly.
But there were plenty of negatives to take from, let’s face it, an 11-point shellacking by fearless LMU. Right now, Ben Howland has a bunch of good pieces, but not yet a good team.
For all the hype UCLA’s frontcourt received during the preseason, they did very little against the Lions to live up to it.
Vaunted center Joshua Smith again suffered early foul trouble and was a non-factor. Reeves Nelson couldn’t fully rebound from a stagnant first half. David and Travis Wear looked as advertised for some time, but were invisible after intermission.
The backcourt duo of Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb fared even worse, providing little scoring while Loyola Marymount rained triples on them all night long.
The Lions went an impressive 10-of-15 from three, most of them uncontested. When they weren’t abusing the Bruins from behind the arc, the LMU guards routinely took their defenders of the dribble to moderate success.
Howland’s trademark defensive toughness was noticeably absent from a UCLA team that could not stop perimeter shooting, dribble drives or shots from the blocks. Their offense was visibly a work in progress, settling too often for long, contested jump shots and not pressing their size advantage down low.
Overall, UCLA get's a C+ for their opening night effort. But individually, how did the Bruin players do?
3 Pts, 4 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 To
To say senior guard Lazeric Jones had a bad game would be a bit of an understatement.
Jones was completely ineffective offensively, going 1-of-11 from the field and 0-for-3 from behind the arc. His lone basket came on an ill-advised drive during which he almost turned it over.
For a player who worked out extensively with NBA players like Russell Westbrook over the summer, the junior college transfer displayed little improvement in 32 minutes on the floor.
The absence of Jerime Anderson’s offensive aggression in the backcourt was sorely felt, as Jones could neither create shots for himself nor his team.
Defensively, Jones simply could not contain either Anthony Ireland or Jarred DuBois. Ireland in particular took advantage of Jones multiple times, draining a couple of threes right in his face and taking him off the dribble at will. The LMU guard finished with 21 points, many of which came at Jones’ expense.
UCLA’s success this season will be entirely dependent on the backcourt’s ability to keep opposing defenses from sagging on to their big men. With Jones a non-factor at the Sports Arena, LMU was able double the post at will.
Overall, it was a forgettable opening night for Jones, leaving significant room for improvement in all areas of his game.
9 Pts, 4 Ast, 3 To
While Tyler Lamb drained a handful of long jumpers early, foul trouble limited his minutes and kept him from getting into an offensive rhythm.
The sophomore guard was pegged in the preseason as heir apparent to the defensive stopper role Ben Howland gives to one player each year. Since he took the job in 2003, Howland has had a slew of NBA talent occupy the role (i.e. Aaron Afflalo, Russell Westbrook, Malcolm Lee), but Lamb is still a defensive work in progress.
Like his backcourt partner Lazeric Jones, Lamb provided little defense against an explosive LMU guard duo that combined for 26 points.
Lamb showed flashes of offensive brilliance in the first half, nailing some contested shots just inside the arc. Unfortunately, a pair of careless fouls forced him to the bench midway through the first half, and he never regained his first-half form. Lamb didn’t drive effectively, and turned the ball over multiple times with suspect entry passes.
Like Jones, Lamb will have to raise his offensive game so opponents are forced to respect the backcourt. If he cannot provide consistent scoring, it could be long year for UCLA.
David: 13 Pts, 5 Reb, 3 Stl
Travis: 11 Pts, 8 Reb
The Wear twins lived up to expectations in UCLA’s season opener, providing scoring threats all over the court and chewing up the glass. Unfortunately, the transfers from North Carolina were largely silent in the second half, scoring only four points after the break.
Despite being identical in appearance, the two redshirt sophomores excelled differently against Loyola Marymount.
While David Wear was more of a spot-up, perimeter shooter, Travis earned his keep under the basket. David went 2-of-2 from downtown, while Travis translated five offensive rebounds into easy putbacks.
At 6’10’’, many speculated before the season that David was too big to effectively play at small forward, but his excellent shooting from distance ended that discussion. If he can incorporate a reliable dribble drive into his offensive repertoire, expect David to give many teams matchup problems going forward.
Travis was UCLA’s best big man on the floor against LMU, and that’s saying something considering he plays with Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson. While his play was a bit opportunistic, Travis had more positives than negatives in a losing effort.
The Wear twins only scrape a B this time around due to their quiet second half, going cold while the Lions made their run.
13 Pts, 8 Reb, 2 Blk
Reeves Nelson posted nine of his 13 points in the second half after struggling in the first. UCLA’s leading returning scorer put his team on his back for a stretch midway through the second to keep the game close, but ultimately did not do enough defensively to earn the win.
Nelson had a handful of outstanding plays, many of which involved him driving to the basket for contested layups. One of the Bruins' highlights of the night was when the Modesto, CA native banked a layup in as he was falling out of bounds.
Nelson was at his best near the basket, only marring his performance with three ridiculous three-point attempts as the game wore on. I know Nelson has worked hard in the offseason to improve his range, but with the team struggling to keep pace with a red-hot LMU offense, wouldn’t higher-percentage shots have been the better option?
Despite tying for a team-high in points, Nelson gets downgraded against LMU because of his poor shot selection and slow start. Otherwise, the junior had a respectable game, with his experience and scoring sure to come in handy every game.
5 Pts, 4 Reb, 3 Blk
Perhaps UCLA’s most dangerous weapon in the post, Joshua Smith hardly looked like it against LMU. Fouls again crippled his effectiveness, as he picked up a pair minutes after he made his entrance into the game.
Going into the 2011 season, Ben Howland said that he would not start Smith due to foul concerns, preferring to let the officials set the tone without his prized big man suffering the consequences. It didn’t help him at the Sports Arena, with Smith picking up two cheap ones despite Howland’s caution.
With UCLA’s backcourt turning in a collectively lackluster performance, the Lions double- and triple-teamed Smith with impunity all night long, picking off entry passes and stripping him as he turned toward the basket.
Smith did show his quality on the defensive end, helping cool off Anthony Ireland when the pacey guard drove through the lane.
Unfortunately, Smith did little offensively to help the Bruins control the post in a discouraging 16 minutes on the court.
Smith earns a lower grade than most here because of his silly fouls. If your coach is specifically keeping you out of the starting lineup because you foul too much, the last thing you should do is walk on the court and quickly pick up a pair.
Once UCLA establishes a backcourt identity, expect Smith’s numbers to improve.
3 Pts, 1 Reb, 1 Ast
Norman Powell made his UCLA debut against LMU and did measurably well in 21 minutes on the floor.
While his stat line isn’t all that eye-catching, Powell did the little things well enough to earn him playing time even when Jerime Anderson returns from suspension. The true freshman combo guard earned himself a nice three-point play off a drive, and didn’t blow many defensive alignments.
Despite contributing to the same ineffective backcourt I criticized Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb for, Powell gets a bit of pass due to his inexperience. He did what he was asked and little more, but showed athleticism and defensive pressure that should please Ben Howland.
If he continues to exhibit encouraging play, Powell is definitely one for Bruin fans to keep their eyes on.
1 Pts, 2 Reb, 1 Ast
An energy swingman off the bench, De’End Parker did little in his 14 minutes on the floor.
The junior transfer went scoreless from the floor and missed a few key defensive assignments that left LMU shooters wide open from deep. With UCLA shorthanded at guard, Parker got minutes that probably would have gone to Norman Powell if Jerime Anderson had been available.
Powell seems to be the better scoring threat, but Parker is taller by three inches, giving him the versatility to move to small forward if needed. I still think Brendan Lane should be considered behind David Wear at the 3 instead, but Ben Howland knows what he’s doing.
It was a quiet performance from Parker, but he wasn’t called on to do much. Parker showed he was still adjusting to the speed of the D-I game against LMU, but he potentially could develop into a solid role player for UCLA.