UCLA Coach Ben Howland says mental lapses have played a big part in the Bruins'… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The sophomore power forward fades in and out like an old television. The freshman center's trouble fouling is getting worse, not better. The freshman shooting guard often looks afraid to shoot.
Nearly halfway through the season, a young UCLA team appears to have leveled off or regressed instead of improving.
"We've shown glimpses and we'll improve on stuff and then we'll just go downhill," sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said.
The most recent example: After leading USC by two points at halftime Sunday, UCLA made only seven baskets and shot 25.9% in the second half of a 63-52 defeat.
Forward Reeves Nelson was emblematic of the Bruins, scoring 12 points and looking unstoppable in 17 first-half minutes. In the second half, he scored two points and was so fatigued that he walked up the court during one possession.
"We just have to be mentally tougher," said Coach Ben Howland, whose team takes a two-game losing streak into Gill Coliseum on Thursday against Oregon State. "You should want to run if you're a player, shouldn't you, on offense?"
The Bruins have been mostly running in place for two months. Freshman center Joshua Smith committed four fouls in each of his first five games and has been called for at least that many in each of his last three games, fouling out twice.
Honeycutt committed seven turnovers in the opener against Cal State Northridge and matched that season-worst figure against the Trojans.
Freshman Tyler Lamb, making only 19% of his three-point shots, appears more hesitant to shoot than he did in November.
This is progress?
"The season is like a roller coaster," junior guard Malcolm Lee said. "It's just how we respond when we're at the bottom."
At 9-6 overall and 1-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference, the Bruins can only hope this is the low point. "We're headed in the right direction," Howland said.
The Bruins are a team without a senior and, at times, one without a leader. Howland said he wanted Lazeric Jones to shoulder that responsibility, but the junior college transfer acknowledged it's a role he's growing into.
"I have to step up and be a leader and get my team together when people get down on themselves or the team," Jones said. "I'll try my best to do better as we go on."
Nelson attributed his perceived inconsistency to taking what defenses are giving him. "I just try not to force anything," he said.
"As far as running up and down the court, it was an issue because I played a lot of minutes in the first half — more than I'm accustomed to, but I still missed some shots that I should have made in the second half, and there's no excuse for that."
For the Bruins to take the next step, Honeycutt said, they need to develop emotional maturity.
"You're going to have turnovers, you're going to have a point where you miss five straight buckets," he said. "It's just being able to come together as a team and know what guys are doing wrong and just fix it on the court."