The graph charting the progress of the UCLA men’s basketball team is uneven.
UCLA won its third straight game, defeating UC Irvine, 76-65, Saturday in front of 6,247 at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins (3-0) committed their fewest number of turnovers so far this season -- only three in the first half and 11 in the game. That’s good. They had steady free-throw shooting -- 21 of 27 -- that’s good.
But the smaller, slimmer Anteaters (1-2) held a 38-34 rebounding edge. That’s not good for the Bruins. And the Anteaters grabbed 15 offensive rebounds -- that’s 15 extra chances to take a Bruin off the dribble, to create an opening through the lane or along the baseline. That’s bad.
Bruin Coach Ben Howland has known UC Irvine Coach Pat Douglass for more than 24 years, and the respect showed in their warm handshake before the game and embrace afterward. Douglass said it would be “just a matter of time” before Howland had the Bruins back on top, in the top 25, winning Pacific 10 Conference championships, challenging for national titles.
“Ben’s got his formula,” Douglass said. “He knows exactly how he wants to get back to the glory years. He’s on his way.”
That way isn’t paved with perfect plays yet. Or easy wins. Or consistency.
After committing 40 turnovers in their first two wins, the Bruins were more careful with the ball Saturday. Point guard Jordan Farmar calmed down and took his time when he surveyed the floor. His line of 14 points, four assists, three rebounds and three turnovers pleased Howland. “Better,” his coach said.
And 7-foot center Michael Fey is earnestly becoming more forceful each game.
“I’d take 13 and nine from Mike every game,” Howland said, referring to his 13 points and nine rebounds.
If Howland wished for something, it was that his post man had received the ball more often, especially in the second half, because Fey had scored 11 in the first 20 minutes.
“And Mike’s going to grow because he’s playing,” said Howland, whose only backup for Fey is freshman Lorenzo Mata.
Mata, from South Gate High, played his first regular-season game after suffering a sprained left ankle the day before the opener. He had one monster blocked shot and a rebound in seven minutes.
Ryan Hollins took advantage of the Anteaters’ lineup of three guards and two forwards by blocking five shots. But UCLA’s second 7-footer managed only three rebounds.
Howland considered Irvine’s rebounding advantage a tremendous negative, saying, “I hope our guys will take it to heart. Irvine got a lot of long rebounds off missed threes because of our lack of blocking out.”
Howland mentioned several times how unhappy he was that the Anteaters beat the UCLA defense off the dribble: “They beat us off the bounce.” “They were beating us off the dribble.” “We were beaten off the bounce.” “We can’t guard the bounce pass.”
Said Farmar, who certainly listened to the message: “I think we need to play the bounce pass better on defense. I know I got beat a few times.”
The Anteaters, who lost to USC, 90-70, last week, never trailed by more than 12 points, and UCLA was ahead, 56-53, with 6:49 left. But Dijon Thompson, who had scored eight points to that point, was rewarded for getting open near the baseline with a pass from Farmar.
Thompson made the wide-open three-pointer and Brian Morrison followed with his only basket of the night, also a three-pointer, to push the lead to 62-53. Farmar finished off the 8-0 Bruin run with a breakaway layup to put the Bruins safely ahead with 5:16 left.
It was a tantalizing spurt of smooth, confident offense, but there hasn’t been a lot of that.
“Our offense got stagnant at times,” Howland said. “We resorted to too many one-on-one moves. Monday in practice we’ll be working on our motion offense.” Another message sent.
“We need to work on motion offense,” Farmar said. Message received.