UCLA Gets Production From Reserve Bigs in Absence of Travis WearPosted by AMurawa on February 25th, 2013
On Saturday night, news leaked out of Los Angeles that junior forward Travis Wear, UCLA’s most-used and most-capable post player, had injured a foot and would likely miss Sunday’s game with USC. When he walked out onto the court in street clothes and a walking boot just prior to the game, Bruins’ fans worst fears were confirmed, leaving a squad that was already significantly short-handed in the frontcourt having to rely on just two players – Travis’ twin David Wear and little-used freshman center Tony Parker – to man the post against a Trojan team that features two seven-footers earning regular time.
But the duo of the other Wear and Parker quickly put those concerns to rest with good production right out of the gates. In the first four minutes of play, David Wear scored four points, grabbed three boards and dished out an inside-out assist while playing with great energy on both ends of the floor. When Tony Parker made his debut, he went straight to work as well, scoring four points in his first four minutes as UCLA point guards Larry Drew II and Kyle Anderson repeatedly looked for him on screen-and-roll opportunities. All told, the duo combined for 18 points and 14 rebounds in a combined 50 minutes of action as the Bruins rolled over their cross-town rival. With Travis Wear currently considered day-to-day and with a couple of very big games coming up this week against the Arizona schools, the Bruins may have to face time with Parker and Wear as the sole bigs. But their performances in the game on Sunday had to have given head coach Ben Howland and UCLA fans confidence that their thinner frontcourt could hold up under pressure.
Tony Parker, in particular, is an interesting case. The freshman from the Atlanta area is perhaps most well-known this season for some relatively harmless and certainly misinterpreted tweets about homesickness around the holidays. But the fact that Parker had often been absent from the Bruins’ game plans in the early-going and the recent history of UCLA players transferring out of the program conspired to cause some to read more into the tweets than was there. But all along this season, Howland has repeated the mantra that someday, some time, the Bruins were going to need to get some good minutes out of Parker in a big game and that he was confident the freshman would produce. Against Arizona at the end of January, when Travis Wear was felled by a concussion in the first half, Howland’s prediction was proven true as Parker contributed six points and three boards in 10 minutes in a win at the McKale Center. Since Travis returned from his concussion, Parker’s role returned to an average of about five minutes per game, but with this new injury, Parker again got a big chance on Sunday and earned 13 minutes of action in the first half (and 17 for the game). And while, again, his numbers aren’t jaw-dropping (eight points, three boards, one block), the production that Parker provided was crucial.
Perhaps more importantly, where once Parker was routinely lost when he was called on – missing defensive assignments, blowing layups, and generally watching the game move too fast for him – now he is showing great improvement. He’s setting good screens, rolling to the basket, giving his ball-handlers a target for the pass and finishing when he has the opportunity. And defensively, he’s been able to learn over the course of the year and put what he’s learned into play. No, Parker isn’t going to be some magic bullet that turns this year’s Bruins team from an underachieving bunch into a national title contender, but he is capable of contributing for this team in big games, as Howland predicted, and his improvement this year should continue to pay dividends in the future. There has been a lot of criticism about how Howland has handled Parker’s minutes this year, but given the growth that Parker’s game has shown, the embattled head coach probably deserves kudos for this one.
As for David Wear, it has been a rough season for the junior. After regularly earning more minutes than his brother in 2011-12, he has taken a back seat to his twin this year. While Travis has claimed the spot as the lone starting big in UCLA’s four-out, one-in package, David has generally watched while Travis claims most of the minutes. But, like Parker, when Travis went out against Arizona, David stepped in and had a big game in relief, tossing in 15 points (one shy of his season-high) and grabbing eight boards. Likewise on Sunday, David helped cover for his brother’s absence by racking up his first double-double since the season opener, going for 10 points and 11 boards. Like his handling of Parker, Howland deserves credit for how he’s used David Wear, keeping him engaged and ready to contribute even as his minutes took a cut.