It was a good thing the uniforms read “Westmont” across the front instead of, say, “Western Michigan.”
Even a mid-major Division I team might have fully exposed the defensive breakdowns that UCLA suffered Thursday during an exhibition game against the NAIA Warriors.
As it was, the Bruins’ shortcomings were mostly obscured by a snappy offense that generated plenty of crowd-pleasing dunks and layups in a 95-59 victory.
That’s not to say the shoddy defense escaped the attention of Ben Howland, though. The Bruins’ coach was particularly vexed by his team’s tendency to be beaten off the dribble.
“As you play against better and better people,” Howland said, “if we get beat off the dribble that easily, we’ll be in for long days and long nights.”
There were plenty of theories as to why the defense struggled. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said it stemmed from being lackadaisical when UCLA ran off to a big lead. Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said fatigue was a factor, the Bruins still working themselves into game shape.
Whatever the cause, Howland said defense would be a focal point of practice, especially staying low in a stance and avoiding the temptation to guard opponents too far from the basket.
“We’ve just got to figure out how we’ve got to play guys and make those adjustments during the game,” junior guard Jerime Anderson said.
The Bruins get a chance to show improvement in their final exhibition game, against Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion. The Division II Golden Eagles have lost their two exhibition games, to UC Riverside by 14 points and to Cal State Fullerton by 12.
Freshman center Joshua Smith, who suffered a sprained right thumb against Westmont, is expected to play against Cal State Los Angeles after being fitted with a plastic splint. But Nelson will probably be sidelined because of a strained right hip flexor.
Nelson suffered the injury against Westmont but didn’t feel any discomfort until he woke up the day after the game and tried to lift his legs from underneath the covers.
“It kind of hurt,” he said, “so I told the trainers.”
The trainers told Howland that Nelson’s injury might have resulted from over-striding while running up the court.
“He was really running hard and maybe he took too long of a stride a couple of times,” Howland said of Nelson, who led both teams with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Nelson said he hoped to be able to return for the season opener against Cal State Northridge on Friday.