UCLA Is Good, But Rebounding Is A Problem
While concentrating on the Lakers and Clippers the last few months I didn’t see many of UCLA’s basketball games.
So, when UCLA played Oregon Saturday for the Pac-12 Conference lead I watched carefully. It was a day to form opinions about a Bruin team that got off to an embarrassing start this season but then went on an impressive winning streak.
How good is UCLA?
Unfortunately, the Bruins lost to Oregon, 76-67, and were crushed on the backboards.
The outcome confirmed what I had thought about the Bruins in my limited viewing of the team earlier in the season. Coach Ben Howland recruited an outstanding group of freshmen but the missing piece is a quality center.
UCLA had cracked the nation’s Top 25, getting the No. 24 ranking in the Associated Press poll. And more success is likely as the games go on.
But to be elite, to fare well against the strongest opposition, a team must be able to rebound well. Your skilled players can’t do their thing without the ball.
The unfortunate thing here is that Howland and his staff did recruit a quality center, two in fact. But to illustrate the uncertainty of recruiting, not every player lives up to his potential.
In UCLA’s case we’re talking about Josh Smith, who has talent but weighed over 300 pounds in high school and again last season in Westwood. And we’re talking about Tony Parker, one of four premier players brought in for this season.
Smith had some good games last season but his weight problem prevented him from staying on the court long enough to be the force the Bruins needed.
This season Smith started out the same way and eventually left the team. He’ll transfer and try to re-start his career elsewhere.
Parker has seen very little action in his freshman year – just three minutes in several games. Conditioning is a problem and he seems like a project – a player who may become helpful in the future but isn’t there yet.
He’s the only one of four heralded Bruin newcomers who isn’t making a major contribution.
Shabazz Muhammad is big-time, Jordan Adams is the team’s leading scorer and Kyle Anderson, while not a great athlete, is 6-foot-9, has point guard skills and possesses an excellent feel for the game.
Among the returnees, the Wear twins have improved steadily since transferring from North Carolina and Norman Powell is athletic and talented.
The progress of Larry Drew Jr. will be a big factor in determining how far the Bruins can go this season. If a team is weak at center and point guard it most likely won’t advance far. Drew hasn’t shot well, and a lot of responsibility rests on his shoulders.
But UCLA has quieted the doubters who were asking if Howland should remain as coach. This is a pretty good team which may not be a truly outstanding one. But that’s better than what a lot of universities have.