While I’m positive that no one in Bruin Nation – least of all me – expected that the winning streak of UCLA’s basketball team would last forever, their 76-67 loss to Oregon at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday before a packed house of 12,254 ultimately disappointed fans is still a cause for much concern.
This end to the Bruins’ ten-game streak, in which the Ducks outscored UCLA by 12 after being down by three at halftime, can be traced to, well, I’ll let Bruin coach Ben Howland verbalize it:
“What concerns me most is rebounding,” Howland commented after the game as Oregon, who is ranked second in the Pac-12 in rebounding, showed their might in that area as the Bruins were beaten on the boards 40-31, which included a whopping 13-7 edge for the 21st-ranked (and most likely rising) Ducks in offensive rebounds.
The fact that Oregon outscored UCLA 38-24 in the paint didn’t help matters any, as the blueprint for beating the 24th-ranked (and likely to fall out of the top 25) Bruins has been firmly established.
Shabazz Muhammad, after sitting out the first five minutes of the contest due to being late for a practice due to what Howland described as “…a series of unfortunate events,” scored ten of UCLA’s last 12 points in the first half but missed all four of his shots during the game’s second 20 minutes. Travis Wear led the Bruins with 17 points, with Norman Powell adding 11 and Kyle Anderson adding ten with 11 rebounds – at least he’s trying hard to address this rebounding deficiency – but it’s fairly clear that this is a team that doesn’t really have anyone who can bang on the boards, grab rebounds and deny second shots.
“We’re a jump-shot team. That’s what we do,” Howland said.
Which will fare badly against teams that have size like UCLA’s next opponent, Arizona, which is ranked at number seven and the top rebounding team in the conference.
That game was billed to be a showdown all season as those two teams were picked to finish 1 and 2 in the Pac-12, but will turn out to be less of one unless the Bruins address this particular issue.
Losing center Josh Smith, who is now enrolled at Georgetown, combined with the Bruins’ other center Tony Parker not really being effective, has hurt Howland’s team as those were the two guys that the UCLA coach depended on to be the rebounders and do damage in the paint.
Oregon, who’s now sitting in first place in the Pac-12 at 5-0 and 16-2 overall, flexed their muscles in the game’s last 14 minutes as they outscored the Bruins 33-21 to put the game away while UCLA, although their 15-4 and 5-1 conference mark is nothing to sneeze at, needs to worry as future opponents like Arizona and USC – who boasts two seven-footers – have undoubtedly noticed the team’s weak link, which everyone knows a team is only as strong as.
The big hope for the Bruins now is that they can somehow overcome their lack of size and win enough games the rest of the way to get into the NCAA tournament, because the alternative is too traumatizing for Bruin Nation to even think about.
Arizona Wildcats, McKale Center, Tucson, AZ – Thursday, January 24, 6:00 p.m.