Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over CaliforniaPosted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2014
UCLA hosted California on Sunday night in a match-up of what clearly looks like the second and third-best teams in the Pac-12. UCLA ran out to a big lead, eased up, and then let the Golden Bears back into the game when freshman Jabari Bird got hot. The Bruins were able to turn the energy back on to finish off the game, but we learned several important things that will be important to remember going forward in the Pac-12 race.
- Kyle Anderson is very good. At some point, writing this will become tiresome and repetitive; but it isn’t yet. Slo-Mo is the Bruins’ best player and – despite all the Zach LaVine hype – its best NBA prospect. He’s got great court vision and a tremendous feel for the game – we knew that. At 6’9”, he’s big and long and causes a lot of match-up problems – yup, knew that too. But his ability to get to rebounds and forcefully collect them (his defensive rebounding percentage is 30th in the nation! For a point guard!); his tendency to lull defenders to sleep with his deliberate style and then glide by them with his long gait on the way to the hoop; his lean-back jumper that uses his long frame to easily shoot over smaller defenders; his ever-improving three-point shot (he’s shooting 52.9 percent from deep this year, for crying out loud!); and his apparent and evolving command of the leadership necessities that go along with being a point guard. Goodness gracious sakes alive! Those are all revelations. Yeah, if you catch him on a switch and he is matched up on a smaller, quicker player, he can have some defensive difficulties, but his feel for the game and those long arms allow him to create so many turnovers. He’ll of course still need to continue adding bulk to his frame, but he is already a terrific player. After the Golden Bears cut the lead to three on Sunday, it was Anderson who the Bruins went to when an answer was needed. He responded time and again, not just getting into the lane and using a variety of moves for good looks at the hoop, but also setting up his teammates in good positions. We’re three months in and still not exactly sure just how good UCLA is, but with a player the caliber of Anderson leading the way, the Bruins are going to have a puncher’s chance come March.
- UCLA needs production from its big guys. Tony Parker and the Wear twins combined for 28 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and a couple blocks in a Thursday night win over Stanford. On Sunday night, that trio combined for 20 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. The fact that it was Parker pulling the load against the Cardinal while the other two did little else, and that David Wear was the most effective big man against Cal to the exclusion of the other two, means little. Steve Alford knows he just needs to have that set of big guys cobble together some form of effectiveness in one way or another. They don’t need to be spectacular and they’re rarely going to be go-to performers; they just have to give the Bruins something each night out.
- A Jabari Bird sighting. Since returning from his ankle sprain, Cal’s talented freshman wing had averaged about 13 minutes per game and had scored a total of just six points, making three field goals on just eight attempts in the three games prior. After playing just four first half minutes, Bird got aggressive about seven minutes int0 the second half with his team down 18 points. Over the next four-plus minutes, Bird scored 10 points on just five field goal attempts, got to the line, grabbed some boards, and even blocked a shot. He admitted later to being winded by the time this stretch was done, but when he next left the game, his team was down just five points and surging forward. Bird was a big topic of conversation in the postgame with head coach Mike Montgomery. “Well, I hope it helps him. He needs to get pissed off and go play. These young guys can make some mistakes, but if you make mistakes without doing any positives, that doesn’t work. Do what you can do, go be aggressive.” Montgomery still isn’t all that pleased with Bird’s defensive work (or the defense of fellow freshmen Sam Singer and Jordan Mathews, for that matter), but after this weekend where the Bears averaged 0.97 points per possession against teams that aren’t great defensively, Cal clearly needs him to provide the type of scoring punch of which he’s capable.