This isn't going to be easy, the care and nurturing of UCLA's young basketball team.
The 75-60 win over Western Illinois (0-2) Tuesday night in Pauley Pavilion was filled with more clumsy stumbles than smoothly choreographed layups, filled with more head slapping bobbles than backslapping dunks. The Bruins had 22 turnovers (six by freshman point guard Jordan Farmar) and those stood out more than a career-high 16 rebounds by senior Dijon Thompson.
Rookie guards Arron Afflalo and Farmar still have more good ideas than good plays. Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey, the two junior 7-footers, have not become suddenly terrific scorers or rebounders. Against a team with no starter taller than 6-9, they combined for 20 points and seven rebounds.
"Playing too fast, trying to do too much," was Coach Ben Howland's explanation of the 40 turnovers the Bruins (2-0) have committed in two games.
What worked at Woodland Hills Taft High won't work in college, not even against the Leathernecks, a team that was 3-25 last season. That's what Farmar found out too often when he'd think there was a clear path for the ball from his hands to another Bruin and instead it would be caught by somebody in purple, somebody shorter and slower but more instinctive.
"I'm trying to thread the needle too much," said Farmar, who is as quick to admit his mistakes as he is to make them. "Sometimes, I see something but this is college and just because I see it, it's not always there. I've got to tone it down a little bit."
Thompson, who had 11 points, was one of five Bruins to score in double figures -- Afflalo and backup Brian Morrison each had 13 points. And UCLA outrebounded the Leathernecks, 49-24.
"I don't care how good a team you play, that's a great rebounding advantage," Howland said.
But with the pluses came the minuses.
The Bruins were quick to fritter away leads. They went up by 10 points once in the first half but led only 39-33 by halftime. The Bruins were ahead by 18 points in the second half. But not for long. There were more frustrating moments than exhilarating ones.
"We've got to do a better job of valuing a lead," Howland said. "We're not always understanding the score. We go up by 18, we speed it up, want to go up by 21 instead of coming down, grinding out a possession, going up by 20. That's demoralizing. We've still got to learn how to play when we've got a lead. Even with about six minutes left in the game, we took a bunch of bad shots."
Hollins had a back-to-back sequence in the second half where he tried to catch a pass by lowering his hands instead of moving forward for the pass so that the ball bounced off his ankles and shoes and rolled out of bounds, and then committed a staggering charging foul for another turnover.
Those came about three minutes after the Bruins had crafted their largest lead, 60-42, after Josh Shipp had sneaked free to lay in a Morrison miss and 24 seconds later Morrison had made the right play by quickly making a wide-open three-point shot.
In the first half, the Bruins couldn't build on momentum either.
After taking a 36-26 lead, their largest of the half, they scored only five points in the final 6 minutes 10 seconds of the half -- a Farmar layup and a Farmar three-pointer on a perfect catch-and-shoot pass from Morrison.
Within a minute, Fey and Afflalo each picked up their second fouls. When they went to the bench, so did UCLA's offensive rhythm and defensive stickiness.
"Besides the turnovers, I think we got better this game," said Thompson, who was surprised at his rebound record. "I could never seem to get more than nine. When I heard it was 16, I was quite impressed."
As for his team, "We'll get there," he said.