UCLA Basketball report 7
by Tony Medley
There were two front page
stories in the March 7 Los Angeles Times Sports Section, yet not one
even so much as hinted at the reason Stanford lost to UCLA last night.
Not one mention! But this isn’t about the ignorance of sports writers,
although maybe one of the reasons why UCLA can get away with their
quality of play is because they don’t have any knowledgeable critics.
Watching this UCLA
basketball team play is as painful an experience as watching major
league baseball managers mishandle pitchers. They beat Stanford tonight
in a game they never should have won because of the stupidity of the
Stanford coach. Readers of this column know my low opinion of baseball
managers and football coaches, and some basketball coaches. But this
Stanford coach really takes the cake. Stanford is a team composed of two
pretty good players, the Lopez brothers, and a bunch of mediocrities.
The Lopez brothers are both seven-footers. The best brother got his
fourth foul with ten minutes remaining in a game Stanford led throughout
by 10 points, so he was pulled. He was still sitting on the bench with
three minutes to go with Stanford still holding a five point lead. Yet
the coach kept him on the bench. Why? So he wouldn’t get his fifth foul
and foul out? Is that the coach’s goal, to keep a player from fouling
UCLA has two demon
offensive rebounders, the poorly-used Kevin Love and Mbah a Moute , a
6-7 forward. Both Love and Mbah a Moute got offensive rebounds and
subsequent points in the last three minutes that they almost certainly
wouldn’t have gotten had both Lopez brothers been in the game
controlling the boards. With only one in the game, UCLA’s two offensive
rebounds allowed them to tie the game in the last second and they won in
overtime by 10. Oh, sure, he put the other brother back in the game in
overtime, but by then it was too late. His being on the bench, however,
didn’t just hurt Stanford’s rebounding.
With him on the bench,
Stanford’s offense went to zero. It simply made no sense to have your
best player on the bench for the last ten minutes of the biggest game of
the year just because he had four fouls. What’s the worst that could
happen? That he’d foul out. And what would the result be? He’d be on the
bench! That’s where he was anyway! Doesn’t anybody understand this game?
But that’s not the only
gift the Stanford coach gave UCLA. In the last three minutes, while they
were squandering their five point lead, Stanford took two forced shots,
each with 20 seconds left on the clock. Let’s see, UCLA tied it up in
the last second. Stanford could have run an additional 40 seconds off
the clock. Had they done so, would UCLA have been able to tie it up in
the last second? What’s 1 second minus 40 seconds? How difficult is it
for a coach to tell his players, “We’re up by 5. They have much more
talent than we do. We have to preserve this lead. Don’t take a shot
until there is less than five seconds on the clock.”? Apparently
“running the clock” is a concept too difficult for players and coaches
at the “Harvard of the West” to understand.
That’s only part of the
story. Stanford only has one player who could start for UCLA, and even
that would be questionable. Love is the best player on the Pacific
Coast. Neither of Stanford’s guards can hold a candle to Collison and
Westbrook. They don’t have a forward with the talent of Josh Shipp and
they don’t have anyone who is as aggressive or steady a player as Mbah a
Moute. One of the Lopez brothers might make the starting team, but it’s
debatable. Yet Stanford led this game throughout. This is true of
virtually every game UCLA plays. UCLA dominates in terms of talent, but
struggles to win. Why?
Why? Because for UCLA to
run a guard-oriented, motion offense when it has a player who could
dominate offensively in the low post defies common sense. Kevin Love is
clearly the best player on the team. He is virtually unstoppable in the
low post. Yet he is the fourth option on offense. That’s right, the best
player isn’t the first option (as is Tyler Hansbrough at North Carolina,
for instance, or the Lopez brothers for that matter); he isn’t the
second; he isn’t the third. He’s the fourth. As an example, in UCLA’s
first possession tonight, Love set three picks, but never touched the
ball. Someone else finally missed a jump shot. UCLA had six points after
the first seven minutes on three baskets by Love. But he only touched
the ball four times. Instead he was running all over the court setting
picks. Was Lew Alcindor’s main job setting picks? Bill Walton’s? Wilt
Chamberlain’s? Shaquille O’Neal’s? Of course not, but that appears to be
Love’s main job in UCLA’s offense.
UCLA’s offense is a motion
offense and revolves around a “pick and roll,” generally a high screen
set at the top of the key by whoever is playing center, generally Love.
The only problem is that the guards rarely pass to the rolling player.
They tried it in the second half and Mata Real rolled and was wide open
as he rolled to the basket. A quick pass to him would have resulted in
an easy layup. Instead of hitting him, however, Collison took a jumpshot
with two men on him. A pick and roll isn’t nearly as effective if you
never pass off of it.
The way UCLA runs a fast
break should be a felony. They have the best outlet passer since Bill
Walton in Love, but they don’t have a clue what to do with the ball once
Love gets it out fast. Last night they had a 4 on 2 fastbreak with the
ball on the wing. It stayed on the wing. In a fastbreak, the first rule
is to get the ball to the middle. That was true 50 years ago and it will
be true 50 years from now, just as it’s true today. But does UCLA know
that? NO! On this 4 on 2, the guy with the ball on the wing just drove
it into the basket and missed the shot. Frankly, I doubt if they ever
run a fast break drill in practice.
John Wooden ran a high post
offense for his first 19 years in Westwood, an offense that became so
familiar it became known as the “UCLA Cut.” Now it’s called The
Triangle, as adapted by Tex Winter and used by Phil Jackson in Chicago
and Los Angeles. But when Wooden got a gifted low post player named Lew
Alcindor, Wooden forsook his beloved UCLA Cut and went immediately to a
low post offense that emphasized Alcindor. Wooden had two guards then
who were better than Collison and Westbrook are today (and they are very
good, indeed), Mike Warren and Lucius Allen. But, good as they were,
Wooden’s first option on offense was always his best player, Alcindor.
If only Howland would learn
from the Wizard. Love is the best player to appear in Westwood since
Bill Walton, but he is being shamefully used. His talents are ignored.
He doesn’t score nearly as much as he should because he’s ignored on
offense and his remarkable outlet passing is pretty much wasted because
UCLA doesn’t know how to run a fast break.
Love is as instinctive a
player as Walton and Gail Goodrich were, which is why he scores as much
as he does despite an offense that seems to ignore him. Instinct like
that is born, not learned, and not that many players have it. Walton and
Goodrich did. So did Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. But it’s rarer than
the raw talent with which all these players were gifted. If Love were
used correctly, UCLA wouldn’t struggle so much to beat teams with
grossly inferior talent, and Love would be recognized far and wide as
the best player in the country.
UCLA has so much talent
that they have a great shot at winning the NCAA Championship, just on
talent alone. The coach, Howland, has done a wonderful job the past two
years getting them to the NCAA Final Four with inferior talent. Now that
he has superior talent, he’s not getting the quality of play his talent
demands. UCLA fans will point to their record of 27-3 and a #3 national
ranking. I say they should be undefeated and blowing these teams with
much less talent off the court instead of struggling each game to eke
March 7, 2008.