Saturday, December 24, 2005

UCLA Pass by Sacramento for Easy Win

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

The UCLA Bruins (10-1) assisted on 28 of their 37 field goals on their way to an 86-56 rout of the Sacramento St. Hornets at Pauley Pavilion.

Sophomore Arron Afflalo had a huge game for the Bruins scoring a team-high 22 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, and handing out 4 assists.

Playing in their third game in seven days, there was concern the Bruins might be somewhat fatigued for this game. In addition, the team had started off slowly in each of their last four games getting behind early.

Bruins head coach Ben Howland gave the team a day off from court practice on Thursday and instead had the players watch the film of their uninspired defensive effort against Wagner. Howland preached to the team that they could not come out with the same poor effort against a high-energy Sacramento St. team and get behind early.

The UCLA players got the message this time around. Not only did the Bruins not fall behind early, but they got ahead and never looked back. The Bruins started this game with high intensity on both ends of the court.

UCLA began the game with an 18-2 run in the first six minutes.

Hoping to exploit their size advantage on the front line against the Hornets, the Bruins looked inside to score in the post. Sophomore center Lorenzo Mata began the scoring with a nice five foot hook from the baseline.

On the next possession, Jordan Farmar found Luc Richard Mbah a Moute underneath alone for a dunk. Farmar finished the game with 15 points (6-9 shooting) and 9 assists.

Sacramento St. played very weak interior defense in the game. Many times the Hornet players looked confused defensively which led to a number of blown assignments leading to easy Bruin scores.

The Hornets who came into this game with a reputation of being a running team in transition were never able to get it into gear - although it's tough to run in transition when you're consistently taking the ball out of bounds after a made field goal. The Bruins shot a sizzling 67% from the field for the game - 70% in the first half alone. They also shot 41% from behind the arc.

In their last game against Wagner, the Bruins lacked defensive intensity and allowed them to shoot 54% from the field. Against the Hornets the Bruins were very active and pressured the ball effectively - preventing dribble penetration and playing good team defense by rotating to the ball for double-teams or close-outs - forcing the Hornets into tough shots or turnovers.

The Bruins defense held the Hornets to a season low 31% FG% total for the game and poor shooting from the 3-point arc (5-22) as well.

All except for Jason Harris (16 points) the Hornets had problems scoring from their half-court sets. The Hornets appeared to lack discipline on offense and took many ill-advised shots . As a result, the Hornets only had 9 assists for the entire game.

Darren Collison did not score in this game but he had 5 assists. However, Collison was most impressive on the defensive end. Collison teamed with Jordan Farmar to hold the Hornet's leading scorer DaShawn Freeman to only 7 points on 3-9 shooting.

Collison's defense has improved immensely since the beginning of the season when coach Howland would pull him out of the lineup in defensive situations. Now Collison is using his ultra-speed to his advantage by using his feet and staying in front of his man defensively, getting into passing lanes for steals or tips, and denying the ball.

Defensively in the low blocks, starting center sophomore Lorenzo Mata was a defensive force with four blocks in the first half alone. Despite suffering a recent concussion and losing his front teeth in the Michigan game, Mata could still be seen diving on the floor and coming up with loose balls in this game.

In addition, one could find Hornet players bouncing like pinballs when they ventured into the paint courtesy of a Lorenzo Mata body block. One of the reasons coach Howland likes about Mata is that he craves for physical play down low - something the Bruins have lacked in the low post for a number of seasons.

Moreover, Mata appears to have earned the starting center assignment going into Pac-10 play. He finished the Sacramento St. game with 6 points (3-3 shooting), 7 rebounds (5 defensive, 2 offensive), and 4 blocks in 19 minutes. The Pac-10 front lines will be bigger than Sacramento St. and Wagner's and Mata and the rest of the UCLA centers will be quite challenged, but for now Mata's aggressiveness on the block and his rebounding will be counted on, unless one of the other centers come forward.

Ryan Wright was the primary back-up center and made 3-3 for 6 points but only grabbed 1 rebound in 12 minutes. Wright showed a nice turnaround shot but he will need to rebound better. In additon he appeared lost on defense at times - at one time Jordan Farmar pointed out to Wright that he had missed a rotation down low almost leading to any easy lay-up.

Michael Fey played 9 minutes and grabbed 3 rebounds and 2 points. His injured shoulder still appears to be bothering as he grimaced and held his shoulder a few times in the game. Ryan Hollins did not play in the game when it was reported he suffered a groin injury during warm-ups.

Forward Alfred Aboya had his best game as a Bruin since returning last week from knee surgery. He scored 12 points all around the basket. He showed good hands when he caught one tough pass in traffic from Farmar for a lay-up. Aboya also had 2 rebounds and 1 blocked in 14 minutes while sharing the power forward spot with fellow countryman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Mbah a Moute led the Bruins as usual with 11 rebounds but he also scored in double figures with 13 points. Mbah a Moute looked much more comfortable in the offense. He moved very well without the ball and was the recipient of a couple of Farmar assists. In addition, Mbah a Moute showed some good ball handling skills when he swooped down from the top of the free thrown line for an easy lay-in.

The 30 point victory margin over Sacramento St. was the Bruin's largest margin of victory this season.

Was the victory a margin a result of Bruin improvement over the last few games or was it a result of playing a bad team? It was probably both.

If the Bruins can share the ball as they did in this game - a season high 28 assists - then their half-court offense will execute much better than in previous games.

On the other hand, Sacramento St. appeared to be a poorly coached team. The number of missed defensive assignments and their undisciplined half-court offense were bad enough, but then add in two Hornet shot clock violations that occurred while their guards were dribbling right in front of their own bench with none of the coaches uttering a word or warning.

Regardless, the Bruins will take an easy blow-out victory anytime, anywhere.

Now the real interesting season begins - the Pac-10. The Bruins open up play against Stanford on Dec.29. at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins are expected to have sophomore forward Josh Shipp back for the game. Coach Ben Howland expects Shipp to play a few minutes in the game.

Look for the Pac-10 Season Preview next week.


(photo credit: Matt Sayles/AP)


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