UCLA Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Last year the Bruins started two seniors in their backcourt, ensuring that the 2012-13 squad would have a new batch of guards. But along with those graduating seniors, three different Bruin frontcourt players that earned time in 2011-12 are no longer with the program. Below we’ll break down those five players in roughly the order of the degree to which they’ll be missed.

Lazeric Jones – He spent just two seasons in Westwood after transferring in from a Chicago junior college, but Jones had a very solid career for the Bruins. In his first year he stepped right into the point guard role and provided much-needed stability along with a capacity for putting the ball in the hole himself when he needed to. Playing with talented wing players like Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, Jones led the team in assists, steals and free throw percentage while chipping in a respectable nine points per game. As a senior, he gladly took on the role of playing off of the ball more as classmate Jerime Anderson took over most of the lead guard duties. Jones again adjusted well to his new role, picking up more of the scoring duties (he led the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game), while still leading the team in assists from the two-guard slot. He also led the team in minutes and, along with Anderson, took on a leadership role for a team that was in disarray following their disastrous start amid serious chemistry problems. While he won’t go down on the list of all-time UCLA greats at the point, he overachieved in his time in Westwood and displayed a heart and toughness that endeared him to Bruin fans — his leadership will be missed.

Lazeric Jones, UCLA

In Just Two Seasons At UCLA, Zeke Jones Endeared Himself To Bruin Fans

Jerime Anderson – Anderson’s career at UCLA was, in a very generous word, underwhelming. At one point considered a four-star recruit and the #5 point guard in the 2008 recruiting class, it quickly became quite apparent that he was not all he was cracked up to be. After mostly sitting behind veteran Darren Collison in his freshman season, Anderson was the heir apparent to the point guard position in 2009-10. But he struggled with his shot, turnovers and, most obviously, defense early in that year, and as the Bruins’ losses piled up, his minutes decreased. In 2010-11, both his expectations and minutes were fewere. But in a fine bit of redemption, Anderson was actually a very solid player last season for the Bruins. As a whole, his college career is a case of unwarranted expectations that had no chance of being met turning into expectations so low that his almost nine points per game and turnovers on 20% of used possessions qualifies as a feel-good story. Read the rest of this entry »

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UCLA: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 23rd, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: UCLA.

What Went Wrong

Team chemistry. While Reeves Nelson is the fall guy for this, after displaying abominable behavior for two-plus years on this Bruin team before eventually being dismissed in early December, the problem went deeper than that. There was supposed senior leader and point guard Jerime Anderson getting busted for stealing a laptop in the offseason and earning a light two-game suspension as a result. There was center Joshua Smith showing up for his sophomore season in worse shape than his rotund, breathless freshman edition. And given that he was close friends with Nelson, it appeared at times that his buddy’s bad attitude rubbed off on him. Aside from behavioral issues, there was also a case of mismatched parts on this team, with a talented frontcourt supported by guards that were in a bit over their heads (despite the relative success that Anderson and backcourt-mate Lazeric Jones enjoyed). And there was head coach Ben Howland who had undoubtedly one of his poorest seasons on the sideline. He was unable to respond to the attitude issues with Nelson in a timely fashion, struggled to meld newcomers like the Wear twins in quickly and in the end, was widely questioned for his inability to find playing time for guys like freshman guard Norman Powell and sophomore center Anthony Stover.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland Is In The Midst Of A Three-Year Downswing With UCLA (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

What Went Right

Still, after the Bruins got around to ditching their Nelson anchor, the team developed into a solid Pac-12 squad. After getting off to a terrible 2-5 start with losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee mixed in with more reasonable defeats in Maui, the Bruins went 17-9 the rest of the way. Travis and David Wear, regarded as Charmin-soft early in the year, turned into the team’s top two leading rebounders and solid interior players. Smith showed some progress on the conditioning front and somehow Howland turned the combination of Jones and Anderson into a quite competent Pac-12 backcourt.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Odds of Stealing A Bid?

Posted by AMurawa on March 6th, 2012

Each week through conference play, we will offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:

“Which team that did not earn an opening round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament has the best chance at winning four games in four days to earn the conference’s automatic bid?”

Andrew Murawa: After consecutive impressive wins to end the regular season, and with the team seemingly rallying around head coach Ben Howland, things set up pretty nicely for UCLA to defy the odds and find its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tourney. With a couple of senior guards in Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson to go with an imposing front line, the Bruins have the horses to make a run, especially considering that they are probably playing their best basketball of the season right now. They open the tournament with cross-town rival USC in a game that is really just a half-step tougher than an opening round bye (and it is tougher, only because of the potential for someone getting hurt) before digging into the meat of the matter. Arizona would be up next, setting up a season tiebreaker between the two Pac-12 powers ; UCLA won by seven in Anaheim back in January before dropping a tight two-point affair at the McKale Center two weeks ago. Washington would be the best bet to be waiting in the semis, and UCLA just showed this past weekend that they can hang with the Huskies.

UCLA

UCLA Is All Smiles, Having Picked A Fine Time To Play Its Best Basketball Of The Year (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire)

Certainly, as is the case for any of the bottom eight teams in the conference, the margin for error is slim, but throw in the fact that all year long the Bruins have been playing their “home games” a bit further down the 110 in front of relatively tepid crowds, and UCLA should feel right comfortable playing in the Staples Center this week. And if the Bruins actually seem to be getting things together, maybe the atmosphere at Staples this week will rise above lukewarm.

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Contrary Opinion: UCLA Story Salacious, But Nothing New Here

Posted by AMurawa on February 29th, 2012

Yesterday about this time, when news broke that George Dohrmann would be publishing a “highly negative” piece about the UCLA basketball program, there were plenty of people who immediately expected the worst. I, for one, figured that today I’d be writing about potential NCAA violations and speculating on who may be the next basketball coach for the Bruins. While the Sports Illustrated piece is certainly not something that is going to be framed and hung on the wall in Ben Howland’s office, compared to those previous expectations, Bruin fans can take a deep breath and relax. Sure, there are loads and loads of very unflattering portraits of former and current players, and mostly of Howland, but still the most damning fact against Howland is a 14-18 record in 2010 and a 16-13 record right now; this Dohrmann piece just explains how the program got to that point. And while there are plenty of salacious details and anecdotes, none of them really change what we already knew about the UCLA program before yesterday.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland Was Painted In An Unflattering Light, But There Were No Great Revelations (Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire)

At the bottom of this piece, the finger points squarely at problems with a couple of recruiting classes — the groups of 2008 and 2009. The 2008 class featured guys like Jerime Anderson, Drew Gordon and J’Mison Morgan, while the 2009 class ominously included Reeves Nelson, but also Anthony Stover, among others. There are allegations of drug use among these players (and other players on recent UCLA teams), but the bottom line problem was Howland’s inability to sufficiently discipline these players for their numerous missteps. The poster child here is, of course, Nelson. There are stories seemingly by the barrelful about how bad of a teammate he was. After 2010 recruit Matt Carlino sustained a concussion early in his freshman year causing him to miss time, Nelson repeatedly railed on him for being soft, called him “concussion boy” and went out of his way to instigate contact with Carlino during practices, eventually helping to drive Carlino out of the program. Nelson also had repeated altercations in practice with another eventual UCLA transfer, Mike Moser. There are reports of Nelson abusing people all over the Bruin program, from student managers all the way up to assistant coaches. And all that is just scratching the surface of what is in the article, knowing full well that there are plenty of incidents that didn’t make the piece and never even reached Dohrmann’s ears. And, until this season, Howland did nothing about it.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2012

  1. It doesn’t go down as a surprise of any kind, but Colorado’s win over California on Sunday afternoon certainly doesn’t lack in importance. The Buffaloes got off to a strong start and withstood some pushback from the Golden Bears to lead for the final 30 minutes of the game and knock Cal from their perch atop the conference standings. Colorado, meanwhile, kept themselves in the mix for one of the four first-round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Buffaloes were led by Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson, who celebrated their Senior Day in style, as Dufault went for 15, while Tomlinson had 11, four assists, and four boards and had a major hand in throwing a wrench into the Cal backcourt. Jorge Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs were held to a combined three-of-18 from the floor Sunday night, and in both games against Colorado this season, that duo was just eight-of-44 (18.2%) from the field. Lost in all the lovey-dovey Senior Day celebrating was fellow Colorado senior Carlon Brown slumping on the bench and seemingly not all that pleased to watch freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker finish the game off. Maybe Tad Boyle is already sick of Brown’s act (it is his first year of eligibility in Boulder after transferring from Utah), but with important games still remaining for Colorado (not just their trip to Oregon next week, but the Pac-12 Tournament, which it seems like they will need to win in order to earn an NCAA Tournament invite), Boyle will have to find some way to get something out of Brown, who is just 22-of-76 from the field in the month of February.
  2. The California loss leaves Washington all by its lonesome in first place in the conference. The Huskies needed a second-half comeback to knock off Apple Cup rival Washington State on Saturday, and they earned that victory largely at the free throw line, not bad for a team in the bottom 10% of the nation in free throw percentage. The Huskies made ten of its final 12 free throw attempts while the Cougars hit just 17 of their 32 second half attempts from the charity stripe and U-Dub escaped with a four-point win. Tony Wroten led the way with 21 points (albeit on 6-18 from the field), while Terrence Ross, in his first game after being declared the Pac-12 POY favorite by yours truly, was limited to just 21 ineffective minutes by foul trouble – he was just one-of-five from the field with two points and three rebounds.
  3. It’s been a long, rough season for Utah, with little talent and as a result, little to play for. But, give credit to head coach Larry Krystkowiak who has kept the Utes scraping hard all season long, and give credit to his team, who the head man describes as “resilient.” It took until the middle of December for the Utes to win a game against Division I competition, and there have been two separate eight-game losing streaks, but Utah got back on the right side of the final score on Saturday, knocking off Stanford 58-57. Junior Chris Hines hit a game-winning three with 27 seconds left and Cardinal senior Josh Owens missed a potentially game-tying free throw with eight seconds, and the Utes escaped with just their sixth win of the year. Meanwhile, for a Stanford team that looked brilliant on Thursday in handing Colorado its first home loss in Pac-12 play, it is just the latest in a long line of uneven performances in conference play.
  4. Normally, if there’s an Arizona/UCLA game being played on the last weekend in February, that’s the headliner in this conference. But, the fact is, as go the Bruins and the Wildcats, so goes the Pac-12. There have been more problems around the conference than just some ordinary teams in Westwood and Tucson, but you have to imagine that if these two stalwarts had lived up to their reputations, there would be a lot less jabbering about the weakness in the conference. As far as the game goes, the Wildcat seniors protected their Senior Day with Kyle Fogg leading the way. The senior guard has averaged at least 24 minutes per game every year of his career, but he is certainly wrapping up his eligibility in style. After going for his second double-double in three games against USC on Thurdsay (and the only two double-doubles of his career), Fogg came just one rebound shy of yet another double-double, but still wound up with 20 points and nine rebounds. The ‘Cats tried to give the game away down the stretch, missing four of six free throws in the final minute, but a Jerime Anderson jumper that could have sent the game to overtime was awry.
  5. Elsewhere around the conference this weekend, the nightmare season for USC continued with a four-point loss at Arizona State, as the undersized and undermanned Trojans couldn’t deal with Sun Devil sophomore center Jordan Bachynski who had 19 points and nine boards. However, it was embattled point guard Chris Colvin who iced the game, converting a three-point play with 19 seconds left to seal the win. Freshman guard Byron Wesley has come up big recently for USC, with new career-highs in each of his last two games, but there just isn’t enough help there for now. And, Sunday night, Oregon held off Oregon State in the 337th edition of the basketball version of the Civil War behind 25 points from Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, whose parents are both Oregon State alumni.
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The Four-Year Growth Of UCLA’s Jerime Anderson

Posted by AMurawa on February 15th, 2012

There are a lot of great things about college basketball. There are the student sections going crazy during conference play, buzzer-beaters to clinch tournament berths during championship week, there’s Dick Vitale dropping babies like a butter-fingered politician. But perhaps my favorite thing about college athletics, and college basketball in particular, is seeing kids improve drastically over a four-year career. Just looking around the Pac-12 this year, we have plenty of seniors worth raving about. Jorge Gutierrez at California is the consummate leader on his team and has gotten better bit-by-bit over his time in Berkeley. At Oregon, Garrett Sim has gone from a shooter who couldn’t shoot on an undermanned team to one of the best shooters and a gritty defender on a championship contender. Darnell Gant has steadily improved over his time in Washington, adding a solid jumper to his “garbage man” persona.

Jerime Anderson, UCLA

After Early Struggles In His UCLA Career, Jerime Anderson Is Now A Team Leader And Solid Point Guard (Elaine Thompson/AP)

But UCLA’s Jerime Anderson has had a career arc that goes further than all of those players. He came to UCLA as the #5 point guard in the 2008 recruiting class, but there was a time, during his first couple years in Westwood, where there was no reason to think that Anderson would ever approach the level of even a solid major conference basketball player. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Anderson was just terrible during his freshman and sophomore years. During his freshman campaign, he averaged less than ten minutes per contest in relief of Darren Collison, so his damage was somewhat limited. But as a sophomore, he was expected to take over at the point for the departed Collison, continuing the line of great UCLA point guards under Ben Howland. Instead, it became very apparent on opening night that he would experience significant growing pains. He was 1-of-11 from the field, missed all three of his threes, turned the ball over three times and was repeatedly exposed defensively in a loss to Cal State Fullerton that was just the start of a disastrous year. It didn’t get a whole lot better from there, as his confidence hit rock bottom. Anderson turned the ball over on a regular basis, and struggled so much defensively that the Bruins had to resort to a zone defense, anathema to a Howland-coached team. But, as the year wore on, he got more comfortable defensively, his turnover numbers moderated and he slowly began to earn back playing time and his confidence.

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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 14

Posted by Connor Pelton on February 15th, 2012

Here’s a look at the power rankings that Drew and I have compiled after the 14th week of Pac-12 games:

1. California, 20-6 (10-3): The Golden Bears stay on top after an impressive sweep in Los Angeles. After easily defeating USC on Thursday to regain a share of first place in the Pac-12, the Bears completed the sweep by getting a big win against UCLA two days later. Despite a big run in the final minutes that was led by senior guard Jerime Anderson, Cal still won by double digits after building as much as a 17-point lead earlier in the second half. Up Next: 2/16 vs. Oregon

2. Oregon, 18-7 (9-4): The Ducks have played themselves back into the bubble conversation after sweeping the Washington schools at home last week. After destroying Washington on Thursday, Oregon completed the sweep by holding down a feisty Washington State team in the final minutes on Saturday. The Ducks must win four of their final five regular season games to stay in the at-large conversation. Up Next: 2/16 @ California

Junior forward E.J. Singler led the Ducks to a sweep of the Washington schools. (credit: Kevin Casey)

3. Arizona, 18-8 (9-4): It wasn’t always in the prettiest of fashions, but when everything was said and done on Saturday in Tucson, the Wildcats had taken both games from the Rocky Mountain schools. With the bright ESPN lights shining on them, Arizona struggled early on against Colorado before pulling away for a 71-57 win. Saturday morning was even more dicey for the Cats as Utah came out on fire. The Utes pulled out to a 13-point advantage before Arizona even woke up. Eventually, the Utes cooled down and Arizona heated up, but a nine-point home win against a 5-20 team isn’t what the selection committee likes to see four weeks before Selection Sunday. Up Next: 2/16 @ Washington State

4. Washington, 17-8 (10-3): The Huskies appeared to play themselves out of NCAA at-large bid after their trip to Oregon. It would have been one thing if Washington had come back from their disappointing loss on Thursday and dominated Oregon State, but the committee isn’t going to look highly upon their ugly three-point victory against a bad Beaver team. The Huskies are still in a tie for first in the conference, but they needed a good road trip to stay in the at-large picture. Up Next: 2/16 vs. Arizona State Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, there was no way we would have picked this game to be the most interesting game of the first week of Pac-12 play. While Stanford has been a pleasant surprise through their non-conference schedule, UCLA was on the very short list of the least enjoyable teams in the conference to watch. However, the Bruins have quietly strung together five straight wins albeit against abominable competition and the Cardinal, coming off a tough home loss to Butler, have to prove that they are capable of contending for the regular season title. In short, while both of these teams have plenty of doubters, and rightfully so, each has a chance to earn a modicum of respect by taking care of business on opening weekend.

Stanford’s loss to Butler last week could be explained away in a variety of ways: it was their first game against significant competition in two and a half weeks; the home crowd was absent most of the students and provided little boost to a sleepwalking team; the Bulldogs got plenty of fortunate bounces; and really, it’s a loss to a fast-improving team that has been the national runner-up the past two seasons. Regardless of the excuses, it serves as a reminder that the Cardinal have largely built their status as one of the conference favorites on a loss – a hard-fought six-point defeat against Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. They have a win over North Carolina State (in which they had to fight back from a 12-point second half deficit) and a win over Oklahoma State, but neither of those teams look like future recipients of an NCAA Tournament invite. So, there is little so far in the positive results category to indicate that this Stanford vintage is significantly better than last year’s 15-16 team that won seven conference games.

Josh Owens, Stanford

Josh Owens Has Been Stanford's Emotional Leader & Go-To Scorer (Credit: Zach Sanderson)

However, if you dig deeper into the metrics, you see a Cardinal team that is winning games because of excellent defense (only twice this season – in the loss to Butler and the uneven win over NC State – have they allowed more than a point per possession), while doing almost all the things that you want to see an efficient offensive team do (they shoot it well, they hit the offensive glass and they get to the free throw line). Only their turnovers on nearly 22% of their offensive possessions present cause for alarm, and that should be a number that sinks as their primary ballhandlers (sophomore Aaron Bright and freshman Chasson Randle) get more comfortable. And if you trust only the eye test, you see a team that appears to run a lot more smoothly than they did last year, when deep into the season the Cardinal appeared to be out of sync on both ends of the court. Bright has taken over as an extension of head coach Johnny Dawkins on the floor, senior center Josh Owens is the team’s emotional leader and go-to scorer, Randle is a steadily improving freshman, and there are a handful of other nice pieces elsewhere on this roster (Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell) ready to make positive contributions on both ends. This is an improved Stanford team, but they’ve still got to prove it and they’ll have plenty of chances, starting tonight.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 28th, 2011

  1. Looking ahead to conference play, we’re getting picks from up and down the conference as to who is now the favorite in the Pac-12. Connor and I have our own ideas which we’ll share with you tomorrow, but for today, have a look at what Bud Withers of The Seattle Times and Bob Clark of The Register-Guard think. Both guys pick California as the favorite, and somewhat surprisingly, both guys pick UCLA to finish in the top half of the conference, with Clark being bold enough to pick them second. Also noteworthy is that both writers place Arizona, California, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington in the top six in some order. Where it looked like we had a top tier of four teams (Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Washington) prior to the season, we now seem to have six teams in that top tier, with none of the lot looking like serious contenders to make a push in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Colorado may be a lower division pick in both of the above projections, but they are something of a sleeper in the conference. With Andre Roberson, Carlon Brown and Spencer Dinwiddie at least in the discussion for all-conference performers, there is no lack of talent on this team, and with six players in their rotation either freshmen or sophomores, there is plenty of upside. And head coach Tad Boyle sees one obvious thing that the Buffaloes need to do in order to improve during conference season: play hard for 40 minutes. The young Buffs have been capable of putting together strong halves, but have yet to really put it all together for a full game.
  3. For UCLA to have any chance of competing for a Pac-12 title (and color me, for one, unconvinced that they can), they’ll need to have a full complement of players, especially in a shorthanded backcourt. The fact that both senior guard Lazeric Jones and freshman guard Norman Powell suffered sprained ankles on Monday is cause for serious concern. Both players are questionable for UCLA’s conference-opening visit to Stanford on Thursday night, and if both are somehow unable to go, the Bruins would have Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and Kenny Jones (14 total minutes in four seasons in Westwood) as their only scholarship guards available.
  4. The UCLA game at Stanford will be a huge test for both teams, and it is our RTC Pac-12 Game of the Week, which we will preview in depth tomorrow. However, Oregon State’s visit to Washington on Thursday night may be equally important to figuring out this Pac-12 landscape. Oregon State has a 10-2 record, tied for best in the conference with the Cardinal, while Washington has limped to a 6-5 record minus any type of quality non-conference wins. And yet it is OSU that has the most to prove in this game, going on the road against arguably the most talented roster in the conference. However, head coach Craig Robinson sees his Beavers as a confident bunch, ready to take a figurative swing at anybody in the conference. It should be an exciting game between the two most up-tempo teams in the league, with each team averaging over 70 possessions per game.
  5. Lastly, Washington and head coach Lorenzo Romar have been very quiet on the recruiting front for the 2012 class with nobody signed for next year yet. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not active elsewhere, as they’ve already offered to at least three players in the 2014 class, with Justin Jackson, a possible top 10 recruit in his class, the latest to receive an offer from the Huskies. Jackson is a 6’6” wing from Houston who has earned interest from elite programs across the country, ranging from Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor in his home state, to Ohio State and now Washington, with other elite schools still in the mix. The other two players Romar has offered in 2014 are Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has the interest of schools like UCLA, USC and Arizona State as well, and Josh Martin.
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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Seven

Posted by AMurawa on December 27th, 2011

So, that’s it for non-conference play. While there are still a few non-conference yawners ahead in the schedule, for the most part this merry band of mediocre ballers get to beat up on each other for the next two-plus months. Given that since the last time we did this, Pac-12 teams combined to go just 9-5 against fairly mediocre competition, at least this will provide some of the top tier teams out west to string together a few wins. Hopefully, at least.

Team of the Week

UCLA – The Bruins won two games this week, and scored what was arguably the best win with an eight-point victory over a mediocre Richmond team. UCLA has now strung together five straight Ws (albeit over five straight teams who won’t help their resume much come March) since the dismissal of Reeves Nelson, and seem to be a team that is benefiting greatly from improved chemistry. Furthermore, their senior guard combination of Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson have picked up not only their production but the leadership roles that they need to claim, and have guided the UCLA ship into some clear waters prior to the rough stuff coming up from here on out. Jones has scored in double figures in seven straight games (shooting 50% eFG or better in all of them) and averaged four assists, while Anderson has been less prolific but just as steady and impactful. Meanwhile, guys like the Wear Twins and Joshua Smith have been effective up front, and youngsters Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb are displaying some of their ability, although perhaps not as consistently as Ben Howland would like. Nevertheless, the Bruins are at least headed in the right direction.

Lazeric Jones

Lazeric Jones' Efficient Offense, Senior Leadership And Consistent Effort Have Helped UCLA String Together Five Straighht Wins (photo credit: Jamie Squire, Getty Images North America)

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Justin Cobbs, Soph, California – A transfer from Minnesota, Cobbs has stepped up big time in the past week. First on Monday as a depleted Bear team hosted a tough UC Santa Barbara team, Cobbs not only scored a career-high 25 points in the absence of senior leader Jorge Gutierrez, but he also took on a huge role in limiting Orlando Johnson to a season-low nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. Cobbs hit 10 of his 12 shots from the field, including all three of his threes, and was a focal point for the Bear offense. RTC correspondent Mike Lemaire was at the game and came away quite impressed with Cobbs’ performance. On Friday night, the Bears were less successful, getting blown out by UNLV in Vegas, but it wasn’t for lack of effort from Cobbs, who again led the team in scoring with 20. If he can continue to give Mike Montgomery an additional backcourt threat, the Golden Bears can challenge for a Pac-12 title in a down season, but they’ve got plenty of work still to do.

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A New Beginning For UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on December 12th, 2011

The theme for UCLA’s game Saturday evening against Penn was a new beginning. Not only were the Bruins playing their first game without junior forward Reeves Nelson, who was dismissed by head coach Ben Howland on Friday following a couple of suspensions for behavioral reasons, but the squad shifted to zone defense for much of the game for the first time this season. While the 77-73 victory was by no means a crisp performance, it was a sign of things to come and a chance for the struggling Bruins to experience some positivity.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland: "A Lot Has Happened This Week And We're Getting To Where We're Figuring Stuff Out." (Credit: Blaine Ohigashi)

UCLA went to a 2-3 zone for the first time about midway through the first half while trailing by one, and spent every half-court possession for the next six minutes in that defense. Howland is primarily known as a man-to-man coach, but he confirmed that you’ll be seeing plenty of zone out of UCLA the rest of the way. “Zone is not preferred, but it is what is fitting for our team now,” he said. “It is something that you’ll be seeing when we’re changing things up. We need to use it and it will be helpful for us, especially as we get better at it.” At times the zone gave Penn trouble, as on the first possession where the Quakers were unable to find a good shot and had to settle for a fallaway three-point attempt by senior Tyler Bernardini as the shot clock expired; and true to another theme of the day, the shot dropped. Bernardini torched the Bruins throughout the day, regardless of the defense employed, hitting eight of his 12 shots on his way to a career-high 29 points. At times the defenders on the perimeter of the UCLA zone failed to close out on the three-point shot, not even putting a hand in a face, something that will surely be pointed out in practice this week. UCLA has already displayed terrible perimeter defense this year, and even after Penn shot 38.7% from three against them, they are still allowing their opponents to shoot 48.7% from three-point range on the season.

However, regardless of some of the sloppiness of the zone, it did provide a few tangible benefits to the Bruins. First, it kept the Quakers from getting good looks inside the three-point line (more than 50% of Penn’s shots were from three), an area where UCLA has struggled all year. Secondly, it helped protect a couple of Bruin big men who picked up a couple of early fouls; Joshua Smith and David Wear both had two fouls in the first eight minutes. Also, the zone gave Smith a bit of a reprieve from his own poor conditioning, allowing him to preserve some of his energy rather than having to chase his opponents out to the perimeter, leaving him enough energy in the second half to score on three straight possessions as well as kick one pass back out for what turned into a wide-open three-pointer.

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No Shocker: Reeves Nelson Dismissed By UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on December 9th, 2011

Just a month ago, Reeves Nelson was on just about everybody’s preseason All-Pac-12 team. As of today, according to a CBS Sports report, he’s no longer on the UCLA basketball team. “After much thought and deliberation, I have made the decision to dismiss Reeves Nelson from the UCLA men’s basketball team effective immediately,” said head coach Ben Howland in a statement released Friday morning after the coach met with Nelson following his final exams.

Reeves Nelson, UCLA

Reeves Nelson's Career In Westwood Was Officially Ended Friday With His Dismissal From The UCLA Basketball Program (credit: Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)

The fall from grace was swift and unexpected, but there were warning signs prior to this season. In previous years he had been known to openly yell at teammates for mistakes on the court, he famously threw a ball at Brendan Lane’s chest in disgust and just generally showed a lot of emotional immaturity. Even in high school he was repeatedly suspended for behavioral issues. This season things got worse, and fast. In the Bruins’ season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount, Nelson grew visibly frustrated as the game went on, and he failed to participate in a couple of huddles, earning his first “indefinite” suspension of the year. After sitting out the Bruins’ next game (another loss, this one to Middle Tennessee State), he was reinstated in time for the trip to the Maui Invitational, then he showed up late for the team flight. Howland somehow allowed Nelson to catch a later flight, and then benched him for a half in the tournament opener against Chaminade. Last weekend, Nelson blew a defensive assignment just before the end of the first half in a loss to Texas, got into a verbal altercation with Howland in the locker room, was benched for the second half there (during which he drew criticism for his behavior on the bench) and then subsequently suspended indefinitely again. Then today, the divorce became official.

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