The No. 17 Bruins took one on the chin Friday night against Loyola Marymount and were upset 69-58. This is not the most thrilling news for Bruins fans, who were eager to see UCLA show the country why they were ranked in the preseason top 25.
The feeling just wasn’t there. No, it wasn’t the change of venue to the Sports Arena. UCLA fans came out in spirited fashion at the Arena, and the Den was jumping as always. The stands weren’t packed as you might imagine, but the fans whp were there were ready to see their team win.
It was the lack of intensity that loomed and echoed every time the ball bounced off the court. The Bruins just didn’t show up.
Point guard Lazeric Jones was lackadaisical; center Josh Smith had no tenacity; forward Reeves Nelson seemed irritated. And above all, head coach Ben Howland was frustrated.
Missed passes, careless turnovers—the Bruins just weren’t on the same page. Or in the same book, for that matter. The same library. No communication on a repeated pick-and-roll play that left LMU players with uncontested three-point shots. The Lions finished the game with ten three-pointers.
Before Bruins fans start to point fingers or hang their heads in complete embarrassment, let’s zoom out for just a second. This is the first game of a 29-game schedule.
What happened on the court Friday night was an atrocious display of basketball, but let’s not forget that this team is just getting settled with David and Travis Wear in the mix.
Yes, it’s disappointing to see a No. 17 team lose its first game to an unranked team, but let’s isolate the positive aspects of the game in order to assure that all is not lost.
Do the Bruins still have a chance to be a top team in the NCAA?
1. David and Travis Wear showed that they can play—David Wear especially, who got the start over Josh Smith, proved that he will be a valuable asset to the Bruins this year. He scored 13 points Friday, and proved that he can be an outside shooter as well.
2. Reeves Nelson’s still got it—Although Nelson seemed a little irritated with the flow of subs in Friday’s game, he showed that he will be a tremendous player as he was last year for the Bruins. He scored 13 points in the game, and made a back-bending lay-up on which he was fouled that turned into a three-point play.
3. Tyler Lamb can shoot—While Bruins fans saw little from Lamb last year, it was clear that he had potential in the few minutes that he came off the bench. He put up some good shots, a few of which were behind the arc, in Friday’s match-up against LMU.
4. Norman Powell and De’End Parker looked good off the bench—Although they probably won’t make the highlight reel, guard Norman Powell and forward De’End Parker both showed that they can put some good minutes in for the Bruins. They showed good defensive intensity Friday night.
WHAT NEEDS TWEAKING:
1. Ball movement—The Bruins lacked a good offensive pace, and most of all, ball movement was stagnant.
2. Penetrate the lane—UCLA shied away from the lane on Friday night, which made them much easier to defend. In order to capitalize on their strengths, the Bruins have to be aggressive and attack the lane, which will open up the court. There were spurts of it at the end of the game, which could signify that coach Ben Howland became aware of it.
3. Point guard must control the court—Whether it’s Lazeric Jones, who wasn’t on his A-game on Friday; Jerime Anderson when he returns from his two-game suspension; or the next most-worthy candidate for the starting point guard position, the point guard must command the court.
When a point guard becomes submissive, the entire team is adversely affected. The Bruins need a point guard who can be a threat from anywhere on the court, which will spread the offense.
Bruins fans—do not panic! This is not the end, it’s literally the beginning. It’s how the Bruins face this adversity that will determine their season. Their next game is next week against Middle Tennessee. Don’t hang your head. It’s the preseason.