With the second half of the Pac-12 season starting this evening for UCLA, the natives are understandably restless.
The Bruins have lost 3 of their last 4 games, slid to fourth place in the conference, and five of their last nine games are on the road. The season is poised to derail at least insofar as UCLA hasn’t lived up to expectations and we have zero momentum on the downhill run of the schedule.
With our current situation in mind, the obvious question is: what can be fixed to right the ship?
Here are five possible areas for improvement for your consideration.
Better shot selection: Teams have figured us out. They can’t run with us, so they slip a defender or two back to kill transition baskets, force us into the half court and dare us to shoot from the outside. We have obliged. We can’t stop the former, but we can control the latter, at least in terms of shot selection. Our shot selection is totally suspect. We settle for jumpers way too often.
Driving the lane and attacking the basket draws fouls, getting us higher percentage shots and setting up the perimeter game on our terms. This simple adjustment should positively affect the rebounding imbalance we suffer from, and increase the likelihood we will start winning again. Oh, and making sure Travis Wear takes a shot or two the last 10 minutes of a game (SC) might help, too. Fixing this is CRITICAL.
Division of playing time: Norman Powell and Tony Parker need to see the floor more. With Shabazz and Jordan throwing up bricks against SC, Powell should have seen more minutes if for no other reason than to give them more rest. Powell went 0-3 from the floor that game (all 3-point shots), so he really needs some “attack the basket” marching orders, but he should be utilized more. Parker is our only hope of having a stopper on the interior on defense, if he can avoid foul trouble. Getting stops in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tourney will be paramount. Parker must have more minutes to develop a rhythm.
Improve rebounding: I personally believe the bad rebounding stats have more to do with our shot selection (including when we shoot) and tendency to leak out for transition baskets than any lack of rebounding fundamentals. Whatever the reason for the less than stellar rebounding stats, rebounding is critical as most shots result in a miss and controlling the rebound helps dictate success. Narrowing the rebounds per game disparity will be a good indicator of measurable correction.
Protect our home court: We have to hold serve at Pauley Pavilion every game, every season. Failing perfection at home, we have to at least not lose to the SC’s and Cal-Poly’s of the world at a minimum. As pointed out above, we only have four home games left so holding serve is also critical for any hopes we have of making the tourney at all. Oddly enough, we have a better road record in the Pac-12 (3-1) than home record (3-2). Holding serve at Pauley is life or death.
Timing of time outs: Bill Walton has been a pretty vocal, and more often than not, nonsensical critic of Coach Howland on TV broadcasts. Love me some Bill, but most of what he says from a technical standpoint is silly. Even his criticism of Coach Howland’s time out management is a bit whacky, but there is a morsel of truth.
Coach Howland needs to resist the urge to call a time out when we’re attacking. Want to call a time out because of bad defense? Call it after we get the ball across half court and have determined whether or not a quick score is available. We cannot afford to kill our own transition opportunities. Correcting this coaching strategy would provide a boost to our offense.
There are several other aspects of the game that folks might point out that also need fixing, but if the Bruins can get a handle on those detailed above, we would be well on the way to winning more games, performing consistently and being a more dangerous team in the postseason.