The Good, The Very Good And The Even Better From UCLA’s Blowout WinPosted by AMurawa on November 15th, 2012
Ok. Let’s get the “yeah, but…” out of the way. Yeah, UCLA dominated. But, it was just James Madison, the last team to get its 2012-13 season underway. I could tell you about how the Dukes were starting four seniors after an injury-plagued year last season, and I could tell you about the how this team has a chance to make some noise in CAA play later this year, but, yeah, it’s just James Madison. Yeah, this was only the third time UCLA has hit the century mark in the Ben Howland era. But yeah, this was just James Madison.
But, way back in April when Howland was putting the finishing touches on the nation’s #1 rated class, this is the kind of game that Bruin fans and college basketball aficionados had in mind. Led by point guards Larry Drew II and Kyle Anderson, the Bruins were out in transition early and often, with players such as Norman Powell and the history-making Jordan Adams running the wings and alternately knocking down threes or slamming home tomahawk jams on the break. When it came to the halfcourt game, the Wear Twins and big guys Joshua Smith and Tony Parker dominated the smaller JMU team, scoring in the paint and causing trouble on the defensive end. Not only were the Bruins playing very effective basketball, but they were doing it in a very exciting manner. Really, there was very little to nitpick about the UCLA performance in the first half. And, by halftime it was all but over. But, let’s pick out a handful of Bruins (apologies to Drew, the Wears and Parker for the omission) and break down the mostly good and little bit of bad tonight, with a heavy emphasis on the dominating first half.
- Kyle Anderson: Let’s start with the one Bruin who struggled a bit offensively tonight. Sure, Anderson wound up with 12 boards and four assists, but he had his struggles from the field. On multiple occasions, Anderson made great moves to worm his way into the lane, only to put up weak attempts at the hoop. The fact that he plays mostly below the rim and is not adept at using his body to get separation from defenders is going to be a detriment to him in traffic throughout the year. He’s got excellent body control (in fact, the one first half field goal he made was on a beautiful double-clutch up-and-under layup) and great instincts, but he’s got a find a way to start making the point-blank looks in traffic. Beyond that, wow, is he good. He’s got a nose for the ball and an innate court vision that cannot be taught.
- Joshua Smith: Okay, many of us have had a little fun with Smith’s conditioning problems, but let’s get this out of the way right now – it’s out of love, Josh. Okay, love and a healthy dose of frustration. There were literally times last season where Smith would come in off the bench, get up the court once and back down to where he started and he’d be out of breath. Well, credit the big man because at least those problems are gone. Early in the first half, Smith came in after the under-16 timeout, played until Howland called a timeout at the 11-minute mark (with the only two stoppages coming when Smith himself earned a trip to the charity stripe), and was effective for the entire five-minute stretch. Sure, it was probably out of concern for Smith getting back down the court another time that caused Howland to call the TO, but over that five-minute stretch, Smith had six points, three boards, and a block. Early in the second half he went up after an offensive rebound, grabbed it, missed the putback and – get this – he went up again to secure the rebound. Unheard of! Suffice it to say, if Howland is able to coax this kind of effort out of Smith for a couple of five-minute stretches per half, the Bruins will be plenty pleased with that.
- Jordan Adams: Midway through the second half, Adams knocked down an innocuous three-pointer (you know, the likes of which he’s drilling at a 40% clip so far) to put UCLA up by 32 points. In doing so, he became the first Bruin freshman to ever score 20 or more points in three straight games. Guys like Tracy Murray, Don MacLean, Kevin Love? Never did it. Adams, the least heralded of the UCLA four-man freshman class has now accomplished the feat in his first three games. And good god, how he’s done it. Tonight it was a combination of deadly perimeter shooting, slashing to the hoop, and – in what is becoming his specialty – getting to the line and converting there. He’s now shooting 96.6% from the line on the year. Throw in his non-stop energy on the defensive end and Adams is a significant contributor as the team’s sixth man and he’s clearly earned a role going forward, regardless of if and when Shabazz Muhammad is declared eligible (damn, I promised myself I could get through this post without a Muhammad reference).
- Norman Powell: He was awful on Tuesday night in the nailbiter against UC Irvine (0-for-7 from the floor with a couple questionable attempts mixed in). Tonight he was scintillating, or, just another Bruin in the running for the best player on the floor. His career high of 27 points came in a variety of ways: drilling threes, filling the lane on the break, sliding into the lane and completing an acrobatic layup or perhaps most spectacularly, throwing down an alley-oop on the break on a dish from Adams late in the game (that one gets the nod over Powell’s tomahawk jam in the first half). Powell (and Adams, for that matter) provide three things the Bruins need, especially in the absence of Muhammad: hard-nosed perimeter defense, good athleticism in the transition game, and three-point shooting. When Powell and Adams are going good this year, this team is going to be hard to beat.