Middle Tennessee State 86, UCLA 66
It was as bad as the final score indicated.
After getting beat by LMU in the season opener as a direct result of uncontested drives and poor perimeter defense, the UCLA Bruins were blown out at “home” by Middle Tennessee State in a game they were predicted to win handily.
The culprits? Uncontested layups and poor perimeter defense.
It was like watching an instant replay of the LMU game, just against a better team. While the Lions shot 10-of-15 from downtown, the visiting Blue Raiders went 10-of-11, including an NCAA record-tying nine in a row before their first miss.
MTS shot an incredible 71 percent from the floor against Ben Howland’s team. Howland, who always preaches limited opponents to under 40 percent shooting and dominating the boards, won neither battle.
The Blue Raiders showed poise, athleticism and the ability to make outside shots, things UCLA tangibly lacks after two games. In the face of MTS’ stifling defense, the Bruins managed only 37 percent shooting from the floor and shot an appalling 4-of-20 from downtown.
What makes this loss worse for UCLA is not just that Middle Tennessee State won, but they did it by doing anything they wanted. It became clear after the first half that this Blue Raider team revolved its offense around an inside game, making their success from outside just an added bonus. UCLA left their shooters so wide open, they couldn’t help but bury the Bruins from dreamland.
Howland needs to rally his troops, and fast. UCLA heads to the Maui part of the Maui Invitational next Monday, and you can bet Howland will have them practicing hard before they step on the plane. Mercifully, they have Chaminade to start, but after these first few letdowns, the Silverswords might be favored.
UCLA gets a C- from me after their latest debacle. They struggled in almost every aspect of the game, but there is plenty of time to improve. It’s still early in the season, and the players still have yet to come together as a team.
Moving forward, here are grades for the Bruin players against Middle Tennessee State.
7 Pts, 4 Ast, 3 Stl, 5 To
How do you solve a problem like Lazeric?
The Bruins starting point guard has shot just 3-for-20 from the field over the first two games while turning the ball over eight times. Jones has only made only one trey in seven tries and has repeatedly lost his man on defense.
While he did show marginal improvement from his dreadful 1-of-11 performance against LMU, the senior needs to look to his teammates rather than himself as a first option on offense.
Jones did slow the ball down at times and made a handful of good decisions, but he could not adapt to Middle Tennessee State’s ever-changing defensive scheme. He didn’t fair well against the Blue Raiders 1-3-1 trap zone and couldn’t effective exploit any mismatches went they went man.
UCLA’s success this year begins and ends in the backcourt, and Jones has to increase his effectiveness in all aspects of the game, starting with his defense. You can’t play for Ben Howland without being solid defensively (unless he has no other choice), so before he does anything else, Jones needs to learn to stay in front of his man.
Otherwise, I’d fully support Jerime Anderson taking his starting spot.
9 Pts, 6 Ast, 3 Reb
Fresh off a two-game suspension for stealing laptops, Jerime Anderson began his senior campaign by adding some energy, veteran poise and defensive intensity to a UCLA side lacking in all three.
Anderson looked confident with the ball and even looked for both his shot and others. Of all the Bruin guards, Anderson found the most success getting the ball down low. He still has breakaway speed, and the suspension seems to have humbled him.
However, as good as he was defensively, Anderson still missed a few key assignments that left shooters open from deep. He didn’t shoot particularly well either, going 3-of-9 from the floor and 1-of-4 from three.
For only 22 minutes on the floor, Anderson did what he could against Middle Tennessee State. He will need to do more going forward.
3 Pts, 4 Ast, 3 Reb
Tyler Lamb had one of his worst performances as a Bruin against Middle Tennessee State at the Sports Arena, sinking only one of his six threes and finishing 1-of-9 from the floor.
UCLA’s starting shooting guard simply could not produce the points or defense Ben Howland requires from his position and was completely invisible in the second half. Bruce Massey and Marcos Knight repeated took him off the dribble for layup after easy layup, to the Bruins’ pain.
Lamb isn’t yet a defensive threat, and if Ben Howland is forced to go to a zone, the young sophomore will be the primary reason why. Lamb has exciting potential, but he’s laid two eggs to start the year.
If UCLA is to compete in a decent Pac-12 this year, Lamb will need to step up his overall play.
7 Pts, 2 Reb, 1 Ast
An athletic swingman whose play seems in the same vein as Cedric Bozeman or Dijon Thompson, De’End Parker had a respectable start to the night, but couldn’t keep it going after halftime.
Starting in place of the suspended Reeves Nelson, Parker scored his only two field goals in the first half. He missed his only three, but exhibited good ball handling and court awareness. A junior transfer from San Francisco City College, Parker showed poise when the game was still competitive in the first half.
One thing that did concern was his apparent lack perimeter shooting. While Ben Howland must have told his team not to settle for long jumpers, Parker only attempted only one trey. In the past, Bruins at his position have been threats to score outside, so he’ll need to add range to his game.
Like the entire UCLA backcourt, Parker has some major defensive work to do. If he can move his feet quicker and contest more shots, Parker should develop into a solid role player for UCLA, maybe even a viable scoring option.
9 Pts, 1 Ast, 2 To
Clearly the future at guard for the Bruins, freshman Norman Powell impressed in only 15 minutes on the floor. Powell went 4-of-7 from the floor including a much-needed three, and displayed the kind of aggressiveness
UCLA needs more assertiveness in the backcourt, and Powell seems to provide that plus athleticism. He scored all nine of his points in the second half and displayed the kind of positive mentality you’d expect of players years his senior.
On the negative side, he did turn the ball over a couple times and made a few freshman mistakes offensively, but overall, he had a decent game. The only thing that kept him out of the “B” range was his defensive, and that will come when he is given more responsibility on the court.
David: 6 Pts, 2 Reb, 1 Stl
Travis: 10 Pts, 4 Reb, 3 Stl
David and Travis Wear followed up their solid game against LMU with a bit of a dud against Middle Tennessee State.
While Travis again posted double figures in scoring, David noticeably struggled against the Blue Raiders, going scoreless in the first half. Ben Howland was probably in his ear after the Loyola Marymount game about settling too often for long jump-shots, and David tried to adjust his game accordingly.
The transition is still a work in progress. While Travis is comfortable operating down low, David has yet to really find his place under the basket. If Reeves Nelson continues to be suspended, he’ll probably find himself regularly starting at the 4, so he better find a post game fast.
Defensively, Laron Dendy, who finished with a game-high 16 points and 13 rebounds, out-muscled the twins routinely down low. Most of Dendy’s points came off failed box-outs or uncontested dunks, the fault of which lies primarily with the Wears. Joshua Smith can only be so aggressive defensively with foul trouble dogging his every step, so it falls to the Wears to pick up the slack.
Speaking of Smith…
15 Pts, 9 Reb, 3 To
UCLA’s 6’10’’, 305-pound center rebounded from a lackluster season opener to turn in a positive performance Bruin fans should expect every night.
Leading his team in both scoring and rebounds, Joshua Smith imposed his will down low late in the first half with a number of emphatic put backs. During that time, he was able to set his feet, make a move and get the easy bucket off the glass.
Despite being double, triple or even quadruple-teamed at one point, Smith was still able to get his points. He has proven he can shoot better than 3-of-6 from the line, so even his 15 points might be a little low.
Unfortunately, we’re only talking about the first half.
Kermit Davis marshaled his Blue Raiders at halftime and schemed up effective ways to stop the Bruin big. Smith only scored four more points in the second half and was routinely denied entry passes. He wasn’t a force on the defensive boards, either, with all nine of his rebounds coming on the offensive end.
Still, it was an overall optimistic performance for Smith. If he can put two halves together while still staying out of foul trouble, UCLA will have their inside threat. Part of that responsibility lies with the guards, who repeatedly turned the ball over in an effort to get it to Smith.
0 Pts, 2 Reb
Brendan Lane gets no grade, as he only played less than a minute against Middle Tennessee State. With over less than 30 seconds to go before the end of both halves, Ben Howland let him get a run in.
One of the few upperclassmen that the Bruins have down low, it surprises me that Lane doesn’t get more minutes, especially with Reeves Nelson out. Sure, the Wear twins are gifted, but right now, UCLA needs experience on offense more than raw talent.
When compared to the Wears, Lane has similar height and range, but the difference is that he’s been through the wars. Lane contributed to two tournament teams and has been in hotly-contested conference matches. The Wears, talented as they are, provide little leadership on the floor and have had a tendency so far to be streaky. Why not give Lane a chance, if for no other reason that to wake up the David and Travis?
Lane has proven himself to a reliable role player in after two years in the Bruin rotation and is deserving of more minutes. Or at least more than one.
The ever-enigmatic Reeves Nelson finally stepped too far after UCLA’s loss to LMU and found himself suspended indefinitely from the team.
While it’s unclear exactly what Nelson did this time to earn the ire of the coaching staff, signs point to the usual poor attitude that has hampered his play since he was back in high school. Perhaps this time he missed a practice or disrespected the coaches in some way.
Regardless of what he did, Nelson has been fighting a mental battle as long has he’s been with UCLA. Subject to incredible highs and debilitating lows, the junior forward could be one of the best in the country if it wasn’t for his mentality.
Sometimes, it works for him, with aggressive displays on both sides of the court serving to fire up his team. Other times, it angers coaches, bothers teammates and hurts his play on the floor.
Hopefully Nelson can resolve whatever it is this time with his coaches, teammates and himself most of all. While UCLA showed they badly need him back, they don’t need the moody, me-first Nelson that fans have often witnessed.
If Nelson can come back, UCLA would be right back in the national picture. Without him, who knows how low they will fall.