Monday, February 20, 2006

UCLA 68; USC 71

There have been a lot of bad performances by the Bruins this year, but until this game, they're only really poor loss was the Cal game. They looked worse against Drexel, Albany, Coppin State, and Wagner, but they found a way to win all of those games. Well, SC isn't great, but they're better than those teams, and they didn't give up when UCLA went on a 13-0 run to take the lead. They responded with a 13-0 run of their own, as the Bruins began to play as if they game was essentially over when they pulled ahead.

When you play this poorly, there's a lot of blame to go around. It was their first game in over a week, and it showed, although that's no excuse, and USC had that time off as well. The first four or five minutes was about as bad as it gets. The box score shows Farmar with only three turnovers, but that can't be right. I counted five in the first four minutes alone. There were at least two steals, a play where he stepped on the end line, and a play where he was unable to get the ball in on an out of bounds play.

Ryan Hollins took a step backward, as he had probably his worst game in the last month or so. He finished with no points, only four rebounds, and a turnover. He was really non-existent on the offensive end, and this came against a team with virtually no inside presence. USC only played seven guys and one of them only played 9 minutes, but they never looked tired.

Ryan Francis got into foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul with 16 minutes to go, but that didn't matter. His replacement, Duane Shackleford, lit up the Bruin backcourt, driving to the basket again and again. He ended the game with 12 points in only 21 minutes on 4-4 shooting and 4-5 from the free throw line. His line was indicative of the night the Bruin defense had. They were a step slow from the get go, and USC took advantage to the tune of 56% shooting from the field.

For the second straight game, one could argue that UCLA lost the game at the free throw line. They made only 10 of 18, with the normally reliable Darren Collison and Aaron Afflalo combining to go 4-9. They've shot only 62% from the line in their last two games, and when they're a fifth or sixth seed in the tournament instead of a third seed, they'll look back at those two games as reasons why. Although honestly, for the most part, this game wasn't as close as the score. USC led by 11 with about a minute and a half to go when the Bruins started making everything. Two three pointers by Roll, another by Farmar, and a couple of free throws by LRMAM (who had a repsectable 8 and 10, albeit on 3-8 shooting) helped pull UCLA to within the final margin before the poor decision making they showed early in the game returned. Michael Roll stole the inbounds pass with 4 seconds to go, and instead of taking the ball to the arc, he tried to hit Afflalo. The ball was knocked out of bounds, and the ensuing inbounds play never materialized, as Roll missed Afflalo again and threw the ball out of bounds. Game over.

There is time to atone for the last two games. They should get a little swagger back this week against the Oregon schools, but they missed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the conference after Cal lost to Arizona State at home. It's great to play such solid defense, but great teams get it done on both ends of the floor, and they aren't getting it done on offense. They can't outscore teams when the defense goes south. They're going to have to find a way to put the ball in basket more often, or their March run will be over very quickly.

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