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In UCLA-Concordia squeaker, Bruin backcourt needs the most oil

With defenders knocking at their knees, the Bruins' offense can't seem to find a rhythm in 62-61 win. Ben Howland says getting Michael Roll back will help.

November 06, 2009|David Wharton

In the wake of UCLA's close call against Concordia -- a 62-61 exhibition victory at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday -- Coach Ben Howland and his team had some thoughts about backcourt play, perhaps the most troubling aspect of a bumpy night.

The Bruins looked disorganized on offense for much of the game, unable to establish a rhythm against smaller, quicker defenders. Even after timeouts, they failed to execute several sets in the final minutes.

Fans might have been reminded of the loss at Washington last season.

"Just our lack of ability to handle the pressure of their defense," Howland said. "We need to screen in the backcourt for our guard. That's my fault."

Concordia's Justin Johnson, listed at 6 feet 2 but looking shorter, led all scorers with 21 points and had a pair of steals. Terrence Worthy, at 5-9, also created problems.

"There's something about those little guys," UCLA guard Malcolm Lee said. "They just get in you, get around your knees."

Lee and former walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid were forced to handle the point because Jerime Anderson was still nursing a groin injury. It was an especially tough outing for Abdul-Hamid, who made the winning three-point shot but also had seven turnovers and sounded like he had been put through the grinder.

"I don't think I've ever played 36 minutes," he said. "I think high school games are 32, so I was a little bit fatigued."

Lee, a shooting guard expected to spell Anderson at the point this season, did not fare much better, finishing with 11 points, two assists and three turnovers.

"Last time I really handled the ball was in high school, and I usually did better than that," he said.

The backcourt issue won't fade away, not with Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday gone to the NBA and UCLA left with only three bona fide scholarship guards.

Howland spoke of getting Lee more time at the point in practice. He also looked forward to the return of Anderson and shooting guard Michael Roll, a senior who might have helped the Bruins avoid some of their 20 turnovers.

"Just having Roll in there would have been a calming influence," Howland said. "Knowing what he's supposed to do, it would have been easier."

Little big men

Though UCLA fans might not have known about Concordia before Wednesday night, the Irvine school is a powerhouse in the NAIA, whose best teams equate to about the NCAA Division II level.

In the last seven years, the Eagles reached the NAIA championship game three times, winning the title in 2003.

Howland gave credit to their preparation.

"They ran the same play, just the old-school hit the high post with two guys split up high, and they scored on it, like, four or five times," he said. "We looked at some film from last year but they did different stuff."

Nevertheless, Concordia is a small school -- enrollment 2,400 -- with a schedule that includes the likes of Hope International, Point Loma Nazarene and Cal State Monterey Bay.

Even UCLA forward Drew Gordon, who knew a bit about the Eagles, was surprised.

"Two of my friends from high school play on that team, so we've been kind of going back and forth," he said. "I didn't expect them to be quite as good."

In the paint

If the Bruins were looking for a bright spot, they could focus on the offensive play of their frontcourt.

Though the big men failed to supply defensive help at times, they pushed UCLA to a 41-21 edge on the boards. Gordon led all players with 11 rebounds and James Keefe had six.

Gordon scored a team-high 17 points. In all, UCLA had 32 points in the paint and eight off second chances.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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