Better to have learned and lost than to never have learned at all?
That could be UCLA's mantra after two defeats in New York that left Coach Ben Howland with plenty of teachable moments. Howland spent nearly three hours dissecting tape of the Bruins' loss to Virginia Commonwealth with his players, pointing out every rushed shot and defensive lapse.
"Just the first half alone was an hour and a half," sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said Tuesday.
Howland also dipped into the video archives, showing players some of his better defensive teams going into lockdown mode. There were clips of Russell Westbrook stealing passes and Alfred Aboya defending the post and Lorenzo Mata-Real hedging a screen all the way to midcourt.
"It kind of shows you how playing defense can generate your offense and it can be pretty fun," sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said.
The Bruins (3-2) could certainly use every tip as they prepare to face No. 4 Kansas (6-0) on Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have won 63 consecutive games.
What worries Howland most is his team's repeated defensive breakdowns. Virginia Commonwealth scored eight of its first 11 baskets on layups, some coming on put-backs after the Bruins failed to box out.
Even though he called the defensive problems "mostly an effort thing," Honeycutt acknowledged that there's probably no quick fix.
"We talk about our chemistry off the floor is great, but it's not really [seen] on the court," Honeycutt said. "It looks like everybody is kind of spaced out, so we just need to be on that same page, everybody communicating."
Honeycutt also suggested that UCLA's new up-tempo offense might have hindered its defense by leaving less time to focus on that side of the ball, a notion Howland dismissed.
"We're not a very good defensive team right now," Howland said, "and I'm not sure if we weren't trying the [offensive] transition that would be any different."
Either way, the Bruins hope their recent defeats serve as a lesson learned and not an opportunity lost.
"We can definitely learn from these two games that we just played," Nelson said. "I'd rather lose them now than in March."
Howland said the Bruins needed to do a better job of running their offense through center Joshua Smith. Of course, that would entail keeping the foul-prone freshman on the court.
Smith is averaging only 16 minutes a game after picking up one foul for every four minutes played. But Howland likes what happens when the ball reaches Smith's hands.
"Not only can he score down low and is a problem to match up with," Howland said, "he's an outstanding passer for a kid with his size."
Freshman center Anthony Stover, among the Pacific 10 Conference leaders with five blocked shots, has earned more playing time because of his energy and hustle, Howland said. Stover is averaging nine minutes a game.… Freshman guard Matt Carlino, sidelined since Nov. 8 by a concussion, has resumed practicing but probably won't play against Kansas except in a blowout. Asked whether making his college debut against the Jayhawks would be tough for Carlino, Howland said, "Yeah."