Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Basketball: What’s Wrong With The Bruins?


UCLA basketball has suffered from three losses in their past four tilts, are now 16-6 and 6-3 in conference play and are on the verge of eliminating themselves from getting into the NCAA tournament, which would be the third year in a row that they do so.

Of course, this team has to fall even further for that to happen. That, however, isn’t out of the realm of possibility. After losing to USC at home, it’s clear that the team is lost, without direction and without an identity. If the Bruins are susceptible to losses to bottom-dwelling Pac-12 teams like USC, why would it be surprising if this team lost to a flighty Washington team, or a middling Stanford team, or a lowly Washington State team? After a ten-game win streak which looked like UCLA would beat lesser teams, how could the past couple of weeks have taken such a dark turn?

There are things fundamentally wrong with UCLA hoops, and the cracks in the foundation have become debilitating. Let’s take a look at these issues:

Shot Selection

There’s a few good reasons for this and, at times, it’s excusable. As our boy Russ O’Risky noted, this team takes far too many bad shots and that’s a function of having too many players who like to have the ball in their hand — Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Larry Drew II — and it’s also caused by UCLA’s terrible presence on the interior. While we like to prop up Travis Wear these days, he’s never been a banger and much of his offensive success stems from his willingness to step out for a long jumper while also occasionally attacking an opposing big off the dribble.

In UCLA’s three in-conference losses, the Bruins have been out-scored by double digits inside the paint. A clean look at this:

  • USC 42, UCLA 30
  • ASU 46, UCLA 26
  • Oregon 38, UCLA 24

And what’s important to note is that none of these teams have elite big men that are capable of taking over games, save Arizona State with the occasional take-over from Jordan Bachynski (who, mind you, had a career night against UCLA).

This segues nicely into the next issue with UCLA hoops…

Interior Defense

This is non-existent. Harp on about the absence of Travis Wear against ASU, talk up Tony Parker all you like, dismiss Josh Smith’s departure as necessary — it doesn’t matter. These UCLA Bruins can’t defend the paint.

Travis Wear, as we’ve noted, gets thrown around down low, while this team relies too heavily on Kyle Anderson’s length, which is serviceable down low but nowhere near sustainable as a form of interior defense. Tony Parker hasn’t played often and thus, has to come out far too aggressively which causes him to needlessly foul inside. Meanwhile, David Wear is about as awful as it gets defensively, at least on the inside.

Indeed, UCLA hasn’t out-scored an opponent inside the paint since beating Oregon State on January 17. Even further, the last time the Bruins held an opponent to under 30 points in the paint was Colorado, on January 12. That’s five straight games in which UCLA’s interior defense has allowed 30 or more points, a statistic that has proved damning for these Bruins.

Rebounding

This is easily UCLA’s most salient issue and it’s one that has yet to be addressed at all, despite the fact that it very well could be.

No, the Bruins don’t have the most size in the Pac-12, but they’re competent in terms of height. With the Wear twins each measuring in at 6-foot-10 and with Kyle Anderson measuring at 6-foot-9 (accentuated by his incredible length) and with Tony Parker also coming in at 6-foot-9, you would think Ben Howland would have figured out how to get the team to rebound better. Part of player development is overseeing the improvement of menial measures such as rebounding.

Much to the chagrin of the UCLA Bruins, that hasn’t been the case. In their three in-conference losses, UCLA has been out-rebounded 53-33, 44-36, and 40-31.  They’ve won rebounding battles before (games that they’ve won), but these were marginal victories, with the team maxing out on a three-rebound advantage each game since beating Colorado nearly a month ago.

Why Is This Ben Howland’s Fault?

At this point, it’s necessary to tie these things back to UCLA coach Ben Howland. While we’ve given him credit before — example — Ben Howland’s time in Westwood is done, and playing out the rest of this season appears to be a formality.

The levels at which this is Howland’s fault span a broad spectrum. It’s Howland’s fault for not adequately developing his talent on the roster, namely the bigs. UCLA is terrible on the interior on both sides of the court and though Travis Wear has improved drastically, much of his improvement has come in the form of his mid-range game. Both the Wear twins and Tony Parker, however, can’t hold down the fort inside and Ben Howland’s refusal to try something more creative than aggressive man defense is maddening.

The counterargument is that Howland doesn’t have talent at his disposal, and that he doesn’t have the big men necessary to compete in the Pac-12. While that’s a pretty stupid argument, let’s play with it: Perhaps Howland doesn’t have such talent.

It’s clearly Howland’s fault for pushing out Josh Smith, a silky-smooth, 6-foot-10 big man that could have been a key role player for UCLA if he wasn’t so miserable under Howland, and wasn’t so entirely unmotivated to play hoops in Westwood. It’s also Howland’s fault for not bringing in big men who can step in right away, and though he did bring in Parker, his utter refusal to play him more than four minutes in a game has stunted Parker’s growth.

There’s no use in continuing on with reasons as to why Howland should be fired. It’s pretty damn clear that he’s gone at the end of the year, barring a near-miracle.

Should Ben Howland be fired?

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Tags: Basketball UCLA Bruins

  • George B

    Hey Carlos,

    Great analysis. Any word on the guy I mentioned, Conor McDermott? I think we need this guy or someone like him to fill that void in the middle. Even if he’s not in BB shape, I sure would like to see him give it a try if he’s interested because this year’s OL class will almost assure that he won’t play on the FB team unless he is just a long snapper. I can see him as an Arsalan Kazemi type of player, just getting rebounds and playing solid defense. I saw somewhere that Conor has a 7 foot wingspan. Also can he bring Sal Alosi with him to work with the BB team?