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Defensive rating rankles UCLA's Ben Howland

UCLA BASKETBALL

The coach isn't happy that his team is eighth in the Pacific 10 Conference and No. 262 in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage.

February 25, 2009|Robyn Norwood

It isn't unusual for UCLA Coach Ben Howland to quote statistics from memory, right down to the decimal point, but this time the reference was pointed.

Asked about UCLA's being eighth in the Pacific 10 Conference in defensive field-goal percentage, Howland cited chapter and verse.

"It's 47.7% in league," he said. "Number 262 nationally on the year, at 45%."

And then, as if even hearing the number rounded off rankled him, he made it more precise: "Point one," he said.

That's 45.1%, and No. 262 out of 330 teams. For a UCLA program rebuilt on defense under Howland, the numbers are particularly hard to stomach. Washington State's 58.8% shooting in its victory over the Bruins on Saturday only swelled the ugly stat.

By contrast, a season ago, the Bruins held teams to 41.8% shooting. But UCLA doesn't have the sort of lock-down perimeter defenders it has had in recent years. Think Arron Afflalo, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Nor do they have the overall team quickness, one reason the Bruins have trouble rotating. But Howland was focused more on inconsistency and missed assignments, with freshman guard Jrue Holiday singled out for his play against Washington State when he was guarding Klay Thompson.

"First shot of the game was just a complete breakdown of responsibility where Jrue went to go help in the post. That's not what he's supposed to do if he's guarding a team's best player," Howland said. "One thing a shooter loves is to make his first shot. He makes his first shot from three, that builds confidence."

Senior center Alfred Aboya praised the younger players for their effort but not always for the results.

"They're all-out competitive in practice," Aboya said. "But like I say, we have a lot of defensive breakdowns, and most of the time it's those freshmen missing their assignment or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The good thing about them is they are willing to learn. They listen."

Calling on Lee

Holiday's lapses led to more minutes for freshman Malcolm Lee against Washington State, and that appears likely to continue.

"One thing he gave me was a lot of confidence he can go in and be solid offensively," Howland said, citing Lee as a player who could become the type of defender Afflalo and Westbrook were.

"Malcolm has that in his future, that he's a guy who's going to be really good," Howland said.

The coach did not say he was likely to start Lee over Holiday again, as he did in the second half Saturday. "I think we're going to stay with our starting lineup," Howland said.

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obynnorwood@verizon.net

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