For UCLA hoops, the time to turn around the season is on December 8, when these Bruins travel to Houston to take on the just-as-underachieving Texas Longhorns in Reliant Stadium in what will likely be a horribly-attended game, something that will be accentuated since it is in a football stadium that holds 71,000 people (UCLA averages 8500 attendees per home game).
These Longhorns (5-3) have had some incredibly ugly losses, and they somehow look worse than UCLA does at this point. With a 13-point loss to Chaminade, an overtime loss to USC and a 23-point shellacking at the hands of Georgetown (which beat UCLA 78-70 in the Legends Classic), Texas fans are in disarray about the direction of the program and this season in general.
Unlike UCLA though, Texas’ offense is about as bad as it gets, earning an embarrassing 60.3 points per game (273rd in the nation) off of 40 percent shooting. Especially comforting for UCLA fans, though, is that Texas only takes 16 three-pointers per contest, significantly less than the damn-near 23 three-point attempts a game allowed by UCLA this season. (Yes, Texas shoots at a higher clip from downtown than UCLA allows, but consider that CSUN took 26 threes vs. UCLA, many of them uncontested, but made only five.)
And although the Texas offense is nothing to be afraid of, the two players accounting for 47 percent of their points this year have been fantastic.
Sophomore guards Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis have been brighter spots for this Longhorns team. The 6’4” guard McClellan leads the team in scoring, earning 16.4 points a game on 42 percent shooting, while also laying claim to a team-leading PER of 20 as well as a team-high offensive rating of 111.3. He’s the team’s primary ball-handler and, even more impressive, he has the lowest turnover rate of any Longhorn this season at a marvelous 13.8 turnovers per 100 possessions. This, of course, is all in addition to his above-average shot from the perimeter; McClellan shoots a dangerous 38 percent from downtown this year. Even further, he’s shooting 91 percent from the charity stripe this year and takes six free-throw attempts per game. If you wanted a comparison, it’s almost as if he’s the Jordan Adams of Texas.
Julien Lewis is no joke, either, and statistically, he’s just as efficient as McClellan is on offense. Lewis averages 11.3 points per game while shooting at a more-than-respectable clip of 47 percent while knocking down a little over 38 percent of his threes. He owns team-highs in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage at 59.7 and 57 percent, respectively, damn good shooting statistics for a 6’3” sophomore guard.
After that? The Longhorns drop off dramatically offensively, meaning two kids are shouldering the load on that side of the court.
That’s not Texas’ bread-and-butter this season, though. While Texas lays claim to one of the worst offenses in Division I hoops, they have the 11th best defensive rating in the country at an astonishing 81.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, letting teams score just 56.8 points per game. The Longhorns allow teams to shoot at a nation-low 32 percent; Texas’ opponents shoot an average of 35 percent on two-pointers and a dismal 22.2 percent on three-pointers. No player who’s been involved in all eight of Texas’ games this season has a defensive rating over 91 and most are in the high- to low-80s.
Meaning the Longhorns will be a tough match-up for UCLA. Sure, they have a clumsy offense that’s predicated on just two players performing at high levels, but UCLA could struggle mightily against an athletic Longhorns’ defense that’s as stingy as they come. UCLA’s offense has been potent — albeit not exactly efficient — but it isn’t ranking anywhere near as high as Texas’ defense is and the Bruins’ offense is far too sloppy to feel confident about going into this game.
That’s not to say they won’t be able to blow down the doors on that Texas defense; it was Chaminade — Chaminade — after all that scored 86 points in the Longhorns’ loss. That game, though, has proven to be quite the outlier, because Texas has only allowed a team to score 60 points just once, vs. Georgetown, which scored 64.
The game will probably be a toss-up because, let’s be real, both teams are downright awful and the respective fan-bases are furious (more so UCLA’s fan-base, given the Bruins’ rich basketball tradition).
It’ll be fun, maddening and depressing, all at once.
PREDICTION: UCLA 70, Texas 58.