The Bruins get burned when defense rests
Reporting from Eugene, Ore. -- UCLA Coach Ben Howland’s fireside chat with the media, an annual event during the trip in Oregon, was canceled Friday.
The light and easy conversation — often more about society than basketball — by the fire in the lounge at the team’s hotel was replaced by a conference call.
In an indication that nothing is light or easy for the Bruins these days, the round-table forum was replaced by roundball concerns.
Asked why the sit-down was canceled, a UCLA spokesman replied in an e-mail, “No reason in particular. Just three media members didn’t want to have to drive for 15 minutes of access.”
Three of the five media members on the trip were planning to attend the session, which lasted nearly an hour the previous two years.
Still, the spokesman’s explanation was a better defense than the one the Bruins put up in Thursday’s 87-84 loss at Oregon State.
UCLA (10-8 overall and 3-3 in the Pac-12) needs a victory over Oregon (14-5, 5-2) to keep from sinking further in the standings. The Ducks are one of five teams with two conference losses. California leads the Pac-12 with a 6-1 record.
Howland was clear about the root cause of UCLA’s latest loss.
“We scored enough to win,” Howland said. “We did not get enough [defensive stops].”
That tough to acknowledge for a coach who preaches defense first, second and always; the Bruins ranked no lower than 16th nationally in points allowed during three consecutive Final Four runs (2006-'08) under Howland.
While Howland indicated that the defensive problems were team-wide against Oregon State, he also said that center Joshua Smith “has got to help more defensively. He has zero blocked shots in conference. He has to be a presence on the defensive end.”
Fitness, Howland said, was the big issue with Smith, 6 feet 10 and listed at 305 pounds. Smith played 19 minutes against Oregon State.
Guard Jerime Anderson said after the game that coming back from the Oregon State loss “is going to be really tough for the team. We did the things that put us in the position to win the game, but we had too many turnovers and too many defensive breakdowns.”
The Bruins went into the game limiting opponents to 42.5% on field goals. Oregon State shot 58%.
The 87 points were the most UCLA has allowed since Nov. 26, 2010, in an 89-85 loss to Virginia Commonwealth. The Bruins have allowed 87 or more points only seven times in Howland’s 290 games as coach.
Howland said that players watched film for an hour Friday. “Hopefully they learned from that,” he said.
What they saw, Howland said, was “they did not do a good job of staying in our stances. They saw our intensity level has to be ratcheted up. We need to control the tempo.”
The Bruins had improved defensively during the three-game winning streak before playing Oregon State, holding Arizona, Arizona State and USC below 60 points.
“The last three games we have done a good job defensively,” Howland said. “So to turn around and not have the defensive tone we had last two weeks was disappointing. Hopefully we will rectify that. The main thing is we have to give the all-out effort.”
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