UCLA’s Nikola Dragovic has answer to Bruins’ woes
Call it senior night.
UCLA would like to celebrate it against Washington at Pauley Pavilion tonight.
Senior guard Michael Roll has promised the Bruins will never again put forth such an effort, or lack of effort, as was the case in Saturday’s 67-46 loss to USC. Senior forward James Keefe preached unity during difficult days.
And senior forward Nikola Dragovic vowed action.
In games he has played this season, Dragovic has been an easy-to-read barometer on how the Bruins are faring. He is averaging 15.6 points and shooting 50% in UCLA victories, but only 7.5 points on 28% shooting in losses.
“I need to be more aggressive,” Dragovic said. “I need to be aggressive on the glass and get more rebounds. I need to be aggressive in trying to create something off the dribble and add some post moves.”
That was never clearer than in the USC game. True, such a lackluster performance required an ensemble cast, with more than enough blame to go around. Coach Ben Howland shouldered the responsibility for the debacle that left his team 7-10 overall and 2-3 in Pacific 10 Conference play.
“It was disappointing, I was very disappointed with our effort,” Howland said. “The bottom line is: We get back up, get to work and work hard. It’s preparation on and off the floor, how we eat and how we sleep goes into it.”
Dragovic missed all six of his shots, scored two points and had two rebounds. He said he was slowed by a sore right leg, and underwent X-rays on his knee Tuesday to “learn what was causing it,” he said.
But Dragovic also had a heart-to-heart with Howland, prompted by Howland, on Tuesday.
“I told him he has 13 regular games left at UCLA,” Howland said. “The main thing is to bring a great level of energy to everything that we’re doing, to try to do the tough things.”
Howland leveled that focus on rebounding, noting that Dragovic “had 14 rebounds in the season opener against Cal State Fullerton and has only 16 in the last five games. There has to be a bigger emphasis on rebounding the basketball for us to have success.”
Dragovic is averaging 4.9 rebounds a game this season. Point guard Malcolm Lee is averaging 4.6.
But Dragovic is talking about overhauling a lot of his game. A year ago, he found easy pickings. Working off the penetration of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, Dragovic would be open for jumpers when the defense collapsed.
He averaged 9.4 points and scored in double figures the last 10 games of that season.
“I was getting shots when Josh and Darren attacked the rim, or off a pick-and-roll,” Dragovic said. “There are more times when I have to create my own shots now. It’s a little different.”
The idea of creating his own shots is not foreign to Dragovic. That, he said, was his role when he played in Belgrade, Serbia.
“I was the guy who was creating shots, making penetration and passing the ball off,” the 6-foot-9 Dragovic said. “When I came here, I changed. Now I’m going to have to change back and create some shots.”
The bottom line is: UCLA has to do a better job at a lot of things.
“I don’t know what happened against USC,” Dragovic said. “We didn’t match their intensity. I don’t have an explanation for it. But I watched that tape for 2 1/2 hours. We need to learn things from it and get ready for Washington.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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