After one of the most disappointing performances in recent memory, UCLA hoops bounced back against a not-horrible Cal State Northridge team that came into the contest at 6-1. These Matadors, of course, are from the Big West, the same conference that houses UCI (which took UCLA to overtime in Pauley a pair of weeks ago) and Cal Poly (which beat UCLA in the aforementioned debacle).
UCLA did its work, though, destroying CSUN early on, taking a 14-point lead at the end of the half and stepping on the Matadors’ throats as soon as second-half play began.
Credit the 2-3 zone that Ben Howland stood committed too, but not too much. While the interior defense benefited tremendously from these Bruins dropping back in to that “cop-out defense,” the three-point defense didn’t look all that great, even if, on paper, CSUN shot terribly from downtown.
They did, going 5-for-26, but there’s a reason they shot 14 more threes than their season average, and that’s because the Bruins were still terrible on rotations to shooters. CSUN’s shooters may not have been as wet as those UCI or Cal Poly shooters, and that likely contributed to why the Bruins destroyed this squad the entire contest. And while we’ll cry and complain about perimeter defense and putting hands up in shooters’ faces, these Matadors still only shot at a 33 percent clip, well below their season average of 44 percent.
Offensively? This UCLA team got a push. And a push. And another push.
The team was relentless on the fast-break and we finally got to see a UCLA attack that didn’t feature some half-assed version of a full-court offense. No, the guards (and Kyle Anderson) pushed the tempo faster than this squad ever has, which resulted in easy buckets in transition.
And indeed, this UCLA squad shot 53 percent from the floor with only two players shooting below 50 percent: Shabazz Muhammad (who went 5-for-11) and David Wear (4-for-10). The ball movement was fantastic, the interior passing was solid and the extra passes weren’t sloppy, forced or otherwise indicative of the Bruins’ total lack of aggressiveness. They relentlessly drove towards the rim, and that’s something UCLA fans have asked for since the season started.
MVP: Kyle Anderson
While Kyle Anderson didn’t lead the team in scoring — that distinction goes to Norman Powell, surprisingly — he earned 15 points off of 12 shots and nabbed seven boards, thre assists and three steals to go along with two blocks. His line is less indicative of his defense, though.
Anderson played the power forward spot for the majority of the game, taking over for the physically-limited David Wear. The result was a serious, shutdown defensive performance for Anderson on the interior, who banged around inside with CSUN’s “big men” (the tallest player at Northridge is 6’9”). And, in the end, Anderson’s rebounding set the tone energy-wise and propelled the Bruins to a legitimate rebounding advantage, beating out CSUN 41-31 in glass meals.
UCLA will need to carry this momentum as the Bruins get set to take on the 23rd-ranked San Diego State Aztecs at the Honda Center this Saturday. The Aztecs pose serious challenges and the Bruins will need every advantage it can get.
The task won’t be aided, though, if Tony Parker is out for the game; many at Pauley Pavilion noticed Parker wore a walking boot. If Parker misses, UCLA will be down to a legitimate seven-man rotation, excluding walk-ons which have rarely received minutes all season.