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Bruins don't get benefit of doubt

Players have to hear some familiar complaints about Ben Howland's offense after a disappointing loss to Arizona State.

January 21, 2009|David Wharton

The coach couldn't sleep.

The players went looking for any modicum of solace they could find.

"I get home and it's all silent," guard Darren Collison said. "My parents are taking it harder than I'm taking it."

It has been that kind of week for anyone associated with UCLA basketball, the Bruins coming off a disheartening loss to Arizona State, a Pacific 10 Conference game they let slip away.

"We're all pretty bummed," swingman Michael Roll said.

Even worse, the defeat revived old doubts about Coach Ben Howland and his program.

Though Howland has led UCLA to three consecutive Final Four appearances, not everyone appreciates his cautious, defense-first approach. Critics wonder if the 13th-ranked Bruins can win a championship without more attention to scoring.

Which raises an essential question: Was the Arizona State loss a temporary glitch or evidence of a serious flaw?

"It's funny that every time we lose, we've got to hear this," Collison said, adding: "I don't think that's fair."

Heading into last weekend, UCLA appeared to be improving offensively. After early-season losses to Michigan and Texas, the Bruins were moving the ball smoothly, penetrating zone defenses and shooting well.

They showed some of that aggressiveness against Arizona State's matchup zone, opening an 11-point lead. But there was something too familiar about the last 13 minutes of regulation and overtime in which they scored only four points.

In a scenario reminiscent of previous losses, UCLA settled for moving the ball around the perimeter or dribbling out the 35-second clock, forcing a low-percentage shot at the buzzer.

The Sun Devils were at least partly responsible, players said.

"They started switching everything at the end of the game and it seemed like they were playing man-to-man," Collison said. "They did not want me to get inside the paint."

But three days later, no one had ready answers for why the Bruins failed to adjust.

At his Tuesday news conference, Howland reiterated that he could have used his bench more and should have directed his team to work the ball inside to center Alfred Aboya. Beyond that, he portrayed the defeat as a one-time stumble.

"You look at our overall field-goal percentage for the year, it's very high," he said. "We'll be fine."

The Bruins are shooting about 50% this season, second best in the Pac-10. They lead the conference in scoring margin and rank fourth in scoring offense at 75.5 points a game.

Preparing for Washington State and Washington this week, the team watched videotape of the Arizona State game for about two hours, dissecting mistakes. There was talk of playing smarter angles against the zone.

Then came a workout that players described as short but intense.

"Any time we lose, we try to respond the next day in practice," senior Josh Shipp said. "That's how we bounce back."

Freshman guard Jerime Anderson suffered back spasms and sat out the end of practice. His status for the Washington State game Thursday night was undetermined.

The rest of the team was in good shape. Except for bruised egos.

"We can't let these doubters or anybody talk about UCLA," Collison said. "We've got to continue to fight back."




Change may be coming in desert

Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek, above, and his Sun Devils are on the verge of passing Arizona in relevance, Chris Dufresne writes.

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