Monday, February 20, 2006

Bruins Come Out Flat, Lose To Trojans

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

In perhaps their worst defensive effort of the year, the No.14 UCLA Bruins were upset by the USC Trojans, 71-68, at the Sports Arena.

After a long eight day lay-off, the Bruins (20-6, 10-4) started off the game lackadaisical and flat against their cross-town rivals. In the first half the Bruins committed 10 turnovers; Jordan Farmar had five turnovers in the first five minutes of play.

This game was a huge contrast to the first meeting between the two teams at Pauley Pavilion in January. In that game the Bruins began with an 18-2 run and won the game going away.

At the Sports Arena, the Bruins did not score their first field goal until four minutes after the tip-off.

But the Bruins were still in the game at the end with 4.9 seconds left and down by only three, but freshman Michael Roll made an errant pass from on an out of bounds play which skipped past Arron Afflalo as time ran out.

"I don't remember touching the ball," said Afflalo, who had 19 points. "I tried to get a hand on it, and I thought it might have gone off the defender."

After spending much of the last week practicing better defensive ball pressure, coach Ben Howland’s Bruins did not have much to show for it in this game. USC (16-9, 7-7) shot 48.1% in the first half and finished the game with a blazing 56.3% from the field.

UCLA, who came into the game with the best defense in the Pac-10 by allowing just 59.4 points per game and 41% field goal shooting, simply did not show up for the game.

The Trojans 5’10 mini-sized guards of Ryan Francis and Dwayne Shackleford penetrated at will against the Bruin’s Farmar and freshman Darren Collison. Both Farmar and Collison had difficulty staying in front of the smaller Trojan guards.

USC’s coach Tim Floyd did a good coaching job in exposing the Bruins lack of defensive quickness on the perimeter. In the last five minutes of the game and his team clinging to a small lead, Floyd spread the court and had both Francis and Shackleford in the line-up together. They ran the clock down and then dribble-penetrated with ease for easy baskets or assists to teammates.

Francis and Shackleford are not the quickest guards the Bruins have faced this year, yet they absolutely had no problems getting past the Bruin's perimeter defense – or lack of it.

Farmar, who had been playing good defense in past games, appeared a step or two slower in the game. “His ankle injury was not the problem today”, Howland said.

Moreover, the Bruin’s secondary line of defense against penetrating guards – the center position – was AWOL for the game.

UCLA’s starting center Ryan Hollins, who had been impressive in recent games, resorted back to bad habits and was nearly non-existent. The only time he was noticed by the crowd was when he senselessly volleyball spiked a shot which was two-feet short of the rim for a goaltending violation. Hollins finished with 4 rebounds, no points, and no blocked shots.

Alfred Aboya, who was questionable before tonight’s game due to a groin injury, played center and scored and rebounded well - but for the second game in a row he was lost on defense.

It’s difficult to blame Aboya for missing defensive assignments at the five spot – he’s played power forward all season, and is only playing center due to the loss of Lorenzo Mata and the inability of fellow freshman, Ryan Wright, to play the back-up center spot effectively.

Wright, who is perhaps the most athletic player on the team, has only played limited minutes in past games due to his defensive liabilities. He still frequently gets lost on defense and is frequently out of position for rebounding. He played only two minutes in the game.

USC’s leading scorer Nick Young scored 10 points on 5-10 shooting for the Trojans in the first half and finished the game with 15 points. With fellow sophomore star, Gabe Pruitt out with an injury, the Trojans knew they needed additional scoring besides Young – and they got it as five Trojans scored in double figures.

Loderick Stewart scored 13 points, Francis and Shackleford had 12 apiece, and center Abdoulaye Ndiaye had 10 points on 4-5 shooting.

The Bruins were led by Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar who scored 19 and 21 points, respectively.

The two combined for 40 of the team’s 68 points which perhaps was the problem tonight, and has been a season-long concern for the Bruins - the lack of balance on offense between their inside and outside game. The center spot combined for only four points.

The Bruins shot 40.7% from the field, and just as importantly, were only 10-18 (55.6%) from the free throw line.

It is the second straight game the Bruins have shot horrendously from the free throw line. Against Washington, the Bruins missed ten free throws and lost by three. In tonight's game, they missed eight free throws and again lost by three.

UCLA kept the game close, despite being out-shot from the field and free throw line by the Trojans, due to their overwhelming rebounding advantage.

The Bruins out-rebounded the Trojans 32-19 and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds which resulted in them taking 11 more shots than the Trojans (59 to 48). Luc Richard Mbah a Moute led the Bruins in rebounding again with 10 in the game.

UCLA missed a golden opportunity to move an entire game in front of the Cal Bears for first place in the Pac-10, and with the loss, they are now tied with the Bears going into the last four games of the Pac-10 conference season.

"We have a young team," UCLA Coach Ben Howland. "We can beat anybody and anybody can beat us. We could lose the rest of our games or win the rest of our games."

Their next two games are at home against the Oregon schools, and then the Bruins must travel to the Bay area for tough season-ending games against Cal and Stanford.

Today’s game was indeed a missed opportunity.


(photo credit: AP)


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