For a moment, you thought nothing but names and numbers had changed for these UCLA Bruins. For about 12 minutes of game time, you figured that this was it, that Ben Howland would get the axe, that the UCLA freshman class would be wasted talent and that the entire UCLA hoops program would fade into obscurity.
Jitters be damned, you thought. Indiana State won 18 games in a no-name conference last year and lose four of those starters anyway. Even without Shabazz, you figured, UCLA has more talent on the bench than the entire Sycamores squad combined.
“Sloppy” couldn’t accurately define UCLA’s level of play out of the gates in the shiny, new Pauley Pavilion. This team was useless in almost every respect offensively, attempting careless, lazy passes that the Indiana State Sycamores couldn’t help but get their hands on. The ball movement was terrible and the sorry excuse for a fast-paced offense screwed UCLA out of solid looks.
A thirty-eight percent clip that these Bruins started at, several hairs below their middling 45.8 percent clip last season. They were taking piss-poor shots around the perimeter, failing to get aggressive inside with all that size on the interior.
And about that size, and this starting line-up Howland put out on the court: The hell was that? The Wear twins looked listless together on offense and, most notably, David Wear had butter fingers. Travis Wear made a few half-hearted attempts to pound it inside, but his efforts, too, were futile.
After those 12 horrid minutes passed, though? This team calmed down and, oh yeah, Jordan Friggin’ Adams found his rhythm offensively.
It was Adams who propelled the listless UCLA offense, and not really by way of scoring. The freshman was a madman on the boards, earning four defensive boards before making his first lay-up. Of course, scoring-wise, credit the surprising Norman Powell, who was active as hell defensively and calculated offensively, playing within himself, much more pleasing to watch than last year’s Norman Powell, who was a mess with the ball in his hands.
Adams went on his scoring barrage, though, namely in the second half to help put UCLA up for good. His outside shot was fluid and he was doing pretty damn well knocking in the contested attempts, too, as was his ability to shoot off-balance.
Of note, though, was that Larry Drew II had the ball in his hands far too much than you’d expect. The entire offseason, Bruins fans had expected Kyle Anderson to take over the rock and bust into a Magic Johnson clone, dishing out dimes like it was nobody’s business.
It was Drew taking over ball-handling duties and, we must say, it wasn’t something we particularly enjoyed. Though he had his fair share of nice passes, seeing him run the fast-break or watching him work in the half-court was frustrating. Perhaps that was because of the perception we had of him, and zero turnovers to five assists shouldn’t lie, but it was hard to see Drew II working in half-court sets as the floor honcho.
Despite our preconceived notions, though, the offense did its part in the second half behind the engine that was Adams, while Travis Wear learned how to play the pivot, scoring 17 points — the quietest 17 points you can imagine, too, behind the sexy-as-hell points scored by Adams — off of 11 shots, earning seven shots from the charity stripe and making good on five of them. Of course, he looked better by leaps and bound when his twin brother, David, was off the floor.
In fact, it turned out that playing David and Travis Wear at the 4 and 5 was a mistake, and though we could’ve told you that before Howland released his starting line-ups, it proved to be absolutely true and the duo looked helpless while we tore out our eyeballs at the sight of these two on the floor together.
Josh Smith? The player you can’t keep out of discussions regarding UCLA hoops? He looked OK. Sure, weight-wise, it hasn’t looked like he lost more than 10 pounds, but he moved nimbly on defense — a total shocker, if you saw his 2011 counterpart — and was active on offense, though his only score of the night came in garbage time, which was an easy, though monstrous, dunk. He wasn’t awful but he wasn’t getting much playing time, likely a function of his conditioning or his inability to run with the UCLA guards.
And overall? This UCLA team was damn good while looking horrible, all at once. While the Bruins struggled mightily out of the gate, the team still managed to make up for lost time, earning 86 points, which would be their third-highest-scoring game in 2011. Whilst looking clueless offensively for nearly 40 percent of the game, this squad still shot at a 48 percent clip, even though they started at 38 percent. Despite committing 16 turnovers to 17 assists, this UCLA team still nearly hung 90 on a division-I college hoops squad.
And this is without Shabazz Muhammad and with pre-game jitters and off-court distractions up the wazoo.
These UCLA Bruins could be scary good, because they screwed around and won by 30.
Or this could be an aberration. We’re not sure yet, and neither are you. Just be glad that UCLA hoops is back, and your life can resume.