Saturday, December 16, 2006

UCLA Overcomes Slow Start, Win by 21

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

The UCLA defense held down the fort until the offense arrived as the Bruins overcame a slow start to defeat the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, 74-53.

Perhaps it was the gruel of completing finals or rustiness from the lack of practice this week, but many in the Pauley Pavilion crowd of 8,612 were stunned to find the Bruins ahead by just the score of 21-19 with four minutes remaining in the first-half.

But UCLA went on a 12-0 run culminated by a Darren Collison three-point shot to go into intermission with a 33-19 lead, and then the Bruins blew the game wide-open with a 8-0 run to begin the second-half.

Although the UCLA offense was stagnant for most of the first-half, the defense was solid as usual.  The Bruins held the Grizzlies to only 28.6% field goal shooting in the half.

Much of the Bruins' troubles offensively could be attributed to a sluggish start, but the Oakland game plan of slowing the tempo also affected the UCLA offense. Similar to the UC Riverside contest two weeks ago, the Grizzlies walked the ball up court and held the ball for a good part of the shot clock to slow the Bruin running game down. 

The slow-down strategy utilized by opponents this season has allowed them to dictate the tempo against the Bruins for at least a single-half in games, or until the Bruin defense wears them down in the second-half. 

Interestingly, UCLA Coach Ben Howland does not insert a counter to force a more up-tempo game such as picking up full-court and pressing.  The most UCLA will do is pick up the opponent's point-guard earlier in the backcourt as Collison and Westbrook did in this game.  The Bruins will see similar teams in the Pac-10 such as Washington St. and Arizona St. who play a similar slow-down style but have better personnel to execute it.

Collison scored a game-high 15 points.  He struggled in the first-half offensively, along with his teammates, a number of times by over penetrating and getting himself into trouble in traffic. But Collison settled down and scored ten of his points in the second-half.  The sophomore point-guard was solid defensively holding Oakland's Johnathan Jones to 1of 10 shooting.

Arron Afflalo had 14 points and Josh Shipp chipped in 13 and grabbed 6 rebounds as the top-ranked Bruins improved their undefeated record to 9-0.

Sophomore phenom Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, showing no effects of a groin injury suffered last week, had a solid game scoring 8 points and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds in 28 minutes.

Aside from Mbah a Moute and Shipp, the rest of the team was MIA on the boards.  For the second game in a row the Bruins were out-rebounded by their opponents, in this game by a 38 to 33 margin.  Center Lorenzo Mata recorded only a single rebound. 

"They (Oakland) must have a heck of a weight program," Howland said. "We've been out-boarded two weeks in a row now. If we continue to get beat on the boards, we are going to lose."   

The Bruins' troubles from the free-throw line continued as they shot only 10 of 18 from the stripe.  Shipp, normally reliable from the line, was only 3 of 7.

With conference play starting in less than two weeks, if UCLA does not improve their rebounding and free-throw shooting soon, they will lose more than their share of games against tough Pac-10 teams who currently sport four teams in the top 25, and a fifth (Washington St.) who may join the elite group soon.

For those who have questioned Coach Howland's strategy of often doubling down in the low-post just needed to witness the Bruin low-post defense this evening.  Oakland's 300-lb plus center Shawn Hopes center gave the Bruins trouble inside scoring a game-high 17 points primarily against single-coverage.   As good a shot-blocker Lorenzo Mata may be this year, he needs to improve his ability in denying opponents low-post position.  Hopes scored three straight baskets in the second-half getting excellent position underneath and scoring easily over Mata.

Michael Roll had a solid game coming off the bench.  He scored 8 points all on mid-range jumpers, a facet of his game he's been working on since the summer.

The Bruins finished the game shooting 50.9 from the field including 40% (6-15) from three-point distance while the defense held Oakland to a paltry 32.1%.

UCLA faces Sam Houston (6-4) on Tuesday at Pauley Pavilion, and then on Saturday the Michigan Wolverines (11-1) come to town.

(photo credit: AP)



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