For the first time in awhile, UCLA held a team known for its terrible offense to a terrible offensive performance.
Stanford came into the contest shooting at a dismal rate of 41 percent, laying claim to a mediocre offensive efficiency of 0.99 points per possession while shooting a disastrous 28 percent from three. If this UCLA team didn’t see improvement between now and the cluster-you-know-what that was the Cal Poly loss, Stanford would have scored more than 68 points and shot better than 34 percent from the floor (although they did shoot better from downtown; go figure).
Alas, they did not. If this were the UCLA of old — and by “old” I mean last month’s UCLA squad — the Bruins would surely have lost with just 68 points on the board. For precedence, the Bruins allowed Fresno State — a team that, at the time, shot 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from downtown — to score 78 off of a ridiculous 59 percent clip from downtown off of 17 shots. That team was far worse offensively than these Cardinal, and watching UCLA not spoil this victory by refusing to allow Stanford to go off on offense was a relief.
Mind you, much of Stanford’s offensive woes were their own doing; blown lay-ups were the standard for the Cardinal early on in the contest, despite penetrating at will and getting open looks at the basket from in close. Sure, UCLA’s size may have disrupted those Stanford guards a tad, but any halfway decent basketball player would’ve converted on at least half of those early trips.
Of course, UCLA held its own defensively, with Stanford being smothered on every trip to the paint after around the halfway mark of the first period. Sure, the Cardinal managed to get in the paint in the first place, but the Wears’ activity down low — coupled with Kyle Anderson’s defensive prowess in the post — gave UCLA’s offense the chance to earn a comfortable lead.
UCLA’s offense sputtered, though, and while the Wear Twins were hot early, we rarely heard their name called after the first seven minutes of the game. From there on out, Shabazz Muhammad would take over the contest — something we’ve started to become accustomed to seeing — and was aggressive as all hell from the perimeter and while penetrating Stanford’s small line-up.
But aside from the Wears’ early start and Muhammad’s kick, this offense looked lost and sloppy. UCLA seemed to have cleaned up turnovers in this winning streak — now at seven — but the bug somehow resurfaced and most of UCLA’s 14 turnovers came off of haphazard ball-handling and careless passes. It wasn’t Stanford’s defense that forced UCLA into these turnovers — it was UCLA’s half-court offense that looked painful, and for much of the game, it was apparent that the Bruins seemed content with getting in those sets as opposed to getting out on the fast break and doing the damage in the transition game, something that was their bread and butter up until this point.
Although, it could be argued that UCLA’s offense sputtered since Ben Howland was especially happy with his timeouts when UCLA looked to begin a streak (Howland’s staple being momentum-killing timeouts). That, of course, would probably account for why the Bruins’ transition offense was stagnant and it’s likely why the half-court offense would have to do in these situations.
This game should’ve been a blowout from wire to wire, or at least for much of the second half. With the game securely in hand, with a 15-point lead, the Bruins decided to fall asleep and made what would’ve been an impressive win look almost unbearable to watch.
These are your 2012-13 UCLA Bruins, though; while they’ve had opportunities to look dominant, their seeming complacency has hindered them from destroying not-the-worst teams.
But this is a win, and UCLA fans will take it. It shouldn’t restore anyone’s faith in Ben Howland as the elite coach he once was, but it’s enough to not whine and complain about him in this contest.
Just enough to stave off those “Fire Howland” tweets and just enough to stay undefeated in Pac-12 play and improve to 12-3 on the season.