UCLA Excels at Art of Defense
The shots that once routinely swished through the net are now bouncing off the rim or missing the rim altogether. Arron Afflalo, UCLA’s leading scorer, is in a confidence-sapping shooting slump from which he got no relief Saturday afternoon at Gill Coliseum, where he was four for 14 from the field, including 0 for 5 from three-point range.
His problems seemed contagious for the Bruins against Oregon State; UCLA was a combined three for 19 on three-point attempts.
Stat sheet for disaster?
On most teams, yes. On this Bruin team, not necessarily. Not on a club that can play stifling defense the way UCLA does.
Once again, defense was the big reason the Bruins were able to beat the Beavers, 63-54. It is the biggest reason the 17th-ranked Bruins remain atop the Pacific 10 Conference with a 7-2 record halfway through the league schedule. And it is also the major reason they are 17-4 overall and 5-0 on the road.
Afflalo epitomizes the Bruin approach. Even though he scored only 11 points, he excelled at the other end of the floor, holding senior guard Chris Stephens, Oregon State’s leading scorer averaging 14.5 points a game, to four.
Afflalo was also extremely effective on the boards, collecting a career-high 10 rebounds and his first double-double.
The Bruins held the Beavers to 35.4% shooting from the field. Senior forward Nick DeWitz, who did not start because he was late to a team meeting, had been averaging 11.8 points, second on the team to Stephens. He also scored four points Saturday, going one for five from the field. Stephens was one for three.
“You’ve got to hand it to [UCLA], on doing what they’ve done to people,” Oregon State Coach Jay John said. “They wear you down with their defense. They’re just there. They compete. They challenge.”
John was especially impressed with Afflalo, shooting slump or not.
“Chris Stephens was defended by an NBA guy in Arron Afflalo,” John said. “He did a great job in that he didn’t let Chris have looks. They just did a good job of taking a lot of our weapons away.”
The one weapon that worked effectively for the Beavers (10-10, 3-6) was sophomore forward Sasa Cuic. The 6-foot-10, 253-pounder had a game-high 24 points, including three of four from three-point range, and seven rebounds.
The Bruin offense has been fueled by its backcourt this season with either Afflalo or Jordan Farmar carrying the bulk of the scoring load. But with Afflalo struggling, two members of the frontcourt have stepped up. UCLA’s leading scorer Saturday, for the second game in a row, was freshman forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who had 14 points.
And the Bruins also got meaningful moments from senior center Ryan Hollins, who has earned the starting job since returning after sitting out six games because of a strained groin. Hollins played a career-high 35 minutes Saturday, scored 11 points, pulled down seven rebounds and effectively patrolled the middle on defense.
It was still a close game at halftime, UCLA leading, 31-30, but the Bruins pulled away in the second half, leading by as many as 15 before a late run by the Beavers narrowed the final margin.
With a victory over Oregon on Thursday, and victories at both Arizona and Arizona State earlier this season, the Bruins have their first double road sweep since the 1996-97 season.
And nearly every one of them pointed to the defense as the key.
Cedric Bozeman, a fifth-year senior, said this is the best team defense he has seen since he has been in Westwood.
“We have a lot of confidence,” he said.
“Everybody is into it. If somebody beats you, there is somebody else to help.”
Thursday vs. Arizona State, 7:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, FSNW2. Although the Sun Devils are struggling this season, they nearly upset the Bruins in their first meeting before losing, 61-60, at Tempe, Ariz.
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