UCLA Team Report
2-4 (0-0), 2nd Pac-12
Yahoo! Sports Nov 29, 10:45 pm EST
The Bruins enter December nothing like the team they—or anyone else—expected.
Picked to win the Pac-12, UCLA lost four of its first five, beating only Division II Chaminade at the Maui Invitational. The Bruins moved a small step in the right direction with a 62-39 win over Pepperdine.
Still, there were internal issues that threaten to tear apart the team and undermine their season almost before it starts.
Junior forward Reeves Nelson, the team’s best player, was suspended by coach Ben Howland for attitude issues displayed during a season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount. Less than a week later, he missed the team bus to the airport, then the flight to Hawaii.
Prior to UCLA’s Nov. 28 game vs. Pepperdine, Howland said Nelson would not return to the starting lineup “any time soon.”
“He’s got to have a good attitude and be accountable for a while,” Howland said. “I thought he did a good job in the second half of the Chaminade game and the Kansas game, but sometimes he slips back to his old practice habits and he’s just got to get better.”
Then there’s 6-foot-10 center Joshua Smith, expected to be an unstoppable force his sophomore season. Still limited by his 315 pounds, Smith averaged barely 17 minutes through six games and was averaging just 8.2 points. He also was shooting 47 percent from the foul line.
“They’ve got some guys that I think need to really take a look at themselves and decide whether they’re in this for the long haul or not,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told the Los Angeles Times after watching the Bruins lose two of three at Maui. “I mean, I saw some guys that really fought and some others that were not all there. No team can win like that.”
Bilas said he expected Smith to return this season more prepared than a year ago. “He’s less prepared,” Bilas said. “He was a net loss with the turnovers, the buckets he was giving up because he really couldn’t keep up defensively. It negated every point that he scored.”
Howland agreed that Smith’s stamina is an issue, and even called a timeout against Kansas just to give his center the chance to catch his breath.
• UCLA was converting just 29.7 percent of its 18 3-point shots per game. Coach Ben Howland conceded that’s “probably” too many 3-pointers.
• The Bruins 1-4 start was its worst since the 1987-88 team dropped four of its first five games on the way to a 16-14 record in the late coach Walt Hazzard’s final season.
• UCLA trailed Kansas by 20 points in the first half at the Maui Invitational.
• Even in its 92-60 rout of Division II Chaminade, the Bruins led by just two points at halftime.
Keep An Eye On: Reeves Nelson. If the Bruins are going to turn their season around after a wretched start, it will begin with their junior forward. He’s been at odds with coach Ben Howland and did not immediately develop a rhythm after serving a one-game team suspension for attitude matters. Nelson is such a key part of the UCLA puzzle that he can either elevate the team or torpedo its season.
Strengths: Right now, it’s hard to find many. The Bruins were picked to win the Pac-12 on the strength of their imposing frontcourt, but that group has issues. If they get it together, center Joshua Smith, forward Reeves Nelson and twins Travis and David Wear should give UCLA a frontline edge.
Weaknesses: The Bruins appear to have serious chemistry issues. UCLA entered the season with backcourt questions, and returning senior starter Lazeric Jones was on the brink of losing his job due to abysmal shooting. The perimeter threesome of Jones, Tyler Lamb and freshman reserve Norman Powell combined to shoot 25.4 percent from 3-point range through six games.
Quote To Note: “We can’t keep coming back and trying to come back—it’s difficult to get over that hill. I’m very inspired by our team’s comeback and our will and our fight, but we just need to put ourselves in a better position to win the game.”— UCLA guard Jerime Anderson after losing to Kansas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Recruiting And Returns: The Bruins checked in at No. 10 on the Rivals.com team rankings after inking a two-man class headlined by Kyle Anderson. A versatile 6-foot-7 guard/forward from St. Anthony HS in New Jersey, Anderson is rated as the nation’s second-best prospect, according to Rivals. UCLA also landed Jordan Adams, a 6-5 wing from Oak Hill Academy who is No. 73 on the Rivals list.
December Outlook: The struggling Bruins are home Dec. 3 to face Texas, featuring explosive junior guard J’Covan Brown, who scored 35 points against Rhode Island. The schedule then eases with five more nonconference games at home. Of course, with Pauley Pavilion undergoing renovations all season, home ain’t what it used to be for the Bruins.
• Senior guard Jerime Anderson has been one of the club’s few early bright spots. He was averaging a team-best 11.4 points and shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc after six games.
• Sophomore center Joshua Smith had just one point and one rebound before fouling out in 13 minutes against Kansas. He played just 12 minutes and scored four points in the win over Pepperdine.
• Junior forward Reeves Nelson shot 8 for 22 from the field in his first three games after sitting the loss to Middle Tennessee State with a team suspension. He was averaging 6.8 points through the team’s first six outings.