If you had any doubts about the direction of this 2012-13 UCLA hoops squad, this loss to the San Diego State Aztecs squashed those doubts.
Because these Bruins were merely competitive against San Diego State, putting up a good fight until the very end.
And sure, SDSU’s ranked. Sure, they’re bringing back a lot of talent from the previous season, and sure, the Aztecs have a couple of solid incoming players. SDSU could beat on 90 percent of the nation the way they beat on UCLA, and the opposition would be satisfied with a million moral victories.
But moral victories be damned, this loss proved the Aztecs are far better coached, cleverly put together and very athletic. This SDSU team did their homework, knowing that UCLA couldn’t rotate out to perimeter shooters, and as a result, the Aztecs threw up a barrage of threes, much like other teams do.
Eleven-for-27 were the Aztecs from downtown, and it helped to bury UCLA. Those long-range shots often came at opportune times in the contest to ensure the Bruins’ multiple attempts at a comeback were stunted in their tracks.
Early on, UCLA had seemed to figure out SDSU, torturing the Aztecs with the 2-3 zone. After 20 minutes, San Diego State had shot just 40 percent from the field, well below their season average. They were still drilling those threes, at a less alarming rate than the second half, but UCLA’s zone got the better of them.
Then Ben Howland adjusted to those three-pointers like any coach would by telling his defense to play man later on, and SDSU burned the Bruins with aggressive penetration and beautiful ball movement which often led to wide-open threes.
Offensively, this UCLA team settled after getting aggressive in the first half behind Shabazz Muhammad’s incredible will and Jordan Adams’ relentlessness. Of course, they had to settle due to the athleticism of SDSU, especially when compared to UCLA.
And all this should be factored into the larger context in which UCLA only played a seven-man rotation, something that might not be fixed for awhile and which will only be alleviated marginally with the return of Tony Parker. And with all that, UCLA will still only run an eight-man rotation and it’s not as if Parker’s play would’ve shored up the issues of three-point defense against the Aztecs (especially when Ben Howland plays Parker sparingly).
The effort was spirited, but that’s about it. There were a few moments in the second half in which UCLA had all the momentum (one of those moments being a Shabazz Muhammad-Jordan Adams-led 7-0 run, in which Howland Howland’d and called a time-out to kill the Bruins’ momentum), but SDSU had the game firmly in hand whenever the Bruins got close.
It’s getting maddening, having to write these posts. And though this loss isn’t on Howland as much as others have been, it undoubtedly adds to the fire that’s heating his seat, which should be red hot at this moment. This game, when looked at in a larger context, is Ben Howland’s doing; if Josh Smith hadn’t transferred, and if Tyler Lamb hadn’t transferred (to add to the accumulating transfers Howland has oversaw during his watch) UCLA might’ve had the depth to keep up with the athletic Aztecs; perhaps he should’ve recruited more athletic, less-heralded prospects (see: 2012-13 SDSU Aztecs) to offset conditioning issues and undermine poor athleticism.
For now, though, props to the San Diego State Aztecs and all their rowdy, cocky fans. After beating every major Division-I college program in California, it’s clear that now is their time, and we’re all excited to see what’s in store for them.
Even while we look down at our feet and glare across the room at Ben Howland.