UCLA Coach Ben Howland knows implementing a zone defense will make the Bruins… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
UCLA Coach Ben Howland, a die-hard man-to-man man, reluctantly used a zone defense extensively against Pennsylvania on Saturday because he thought it better suited a team loaded with plodding big men.
It worked for the most part; the Bruins won. But UCLA (3-5), which faces Eastern Washington (5-4) on Wednesday at the Sports Arena, also exposed some areas that need improvement. Defending the three-point line, for example.
"We just have to find where the shooters are," guard Lazeric Jones said. "The guy from the last game, we knew he was a really great shooter coming into the game."
Quakers guard Tyler Bernardini, a 6-foot-6 senior from Carlsbad, still got loose to make eight of 12 three-point shots.
Then again, UCLA hasn't stopped many three-point shooters this season. The Bruins rank next to last out of 338 Division I teams in three-point field goal-percentage defense. Opponents are shooting 45.1%.
Mississippi Valley State is worse, but only by a 10th of a percentage point.
With such a glaring weakness, switching to a defense that favors three-point shooters might seem like a move in the wrong direction.
"It doesn't help that [statistic] come down," Howland said. "But I would rather give up threes and try to contest those threes than layups."
He added: "I think a zone is going to benefit us, especially when we have to play big or change things up."
Howland has implemented a zone defense in past seasons but usually not for long. He seems more committed to it this season.
"We have to get better at it, because we're going to have it during the course of the year," Howland said.
Jones said the team began practicing zone defense just days before facing Penn, and then a couple of more times this week.
Howland said he's not concerned about his team's switching from a style it plays almost exclusively to one it has rarely practiced.
"All these kids have played it," he said, referring to their high school careers.
Not Jones. "I haven't really played zone that much, in high school or in [junior college]," he said.
Forward Travis Wear said learning defensive responsibilities in that scheme is an adjustment, and mistakes contributed to Bernardini's big night.
"We'll see what happens," Wear said, "if we become more of a zone team or we become more of a man-to-man."
Sophomore center Joshua Smith hasn't played more than 20 minutes in a game since Nov. 21.
"He got tired on Saturday a couple times and asked to come out," Howland said.
Howland said Smith, who's averaging 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds, isn't in top physical shape. Smith did some extra running before that game and Monday after practice to improve his stamina.
Sophomore guard Tyler Lamb sat out the last two practices because of bursitis in his left hip. Howland said he's hopeful Lamb can play against Eastern Washington. . . . Junior guard De'End Parker has been struggling because of a knee injury and most recently food poisoning that left him "violently throwing up," Howland said. Parker saw a doctor Monday and isn't expected to play.