Ben Howland and the Bruins are off to a disappointing start this season. (David J. Phillip / Associated…)
UCLA's disappointing start to the season goes beyond its losses. Even the Bruins' wins, some against subpar competition, have been underwhelming.
Aside from a 30-point blowout of James Madison, UCLA's heralded basketball team has not controlled any of its other victories from start to finish.
In its 26-point victory against Cal State Northridge, UCLA led by only three 10 minutes into the first half. In its season-opening 27-point win against Indiana State, UCLA led by single digits at halftime.
"We're a team that's going to be in close games all year long," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said this week. "We're just not that advanced as a team. We don't know how to come out and do that yet.
"Hopefully we get to that point where we're playing with that killer instinct and we're able to finish out a game."
A good place to start is Saturday, when UCLA (6-3) plays host to Prairie View A&M (5-5) at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins, who are 3-1 in games decided by five or fewer points this season, have shown flashes of brilliance, as when they stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final minutes to beat Texas.
"If we play like that for an entire game, I really feel we can beat anybody on our entire schedule by double digits," said senior guard Larry Drew II. "That's just a matter of whether or not we're going to have the heart to do it."
Earlier this season, Howland said that because his team was big and not "super athletic," it was more suited to play zone defense.
But, despite that assessment, Howland said the Bruins will be playing mostly man-to-man defense going forward.
Howland has long preferred man defense, but he said one reason they'll play it is because as seasons go along, teams generally improve at attacking zone defenses.
"You don't see too many great teams that sit back and play zone all day, except for Syracuse," Drew II said. "But that's their bread and butter right there. And we're not Syracuse."
Right now, UCLA's man defense has looked awful, and Howland said lapses are a result of the team's youth and inexperience.
"We are capable of doing it, but we just take plays off," said freshman Jordan Adams.
Said Drew II: "We've got to stick to the fundamentals and man principles and buckle down and get stops, the old-fashioned way."
Joshua Smith move
The main schools interested in acquiring former UCLA center Joshua Smith, who left the Bruins in late November and is looking to transfer, are Kansas and Georgetown, people close to the situation said. He's also interested in transferring to Washington, but it's unlikely that he'll be able to transfer within the Pac-12 Conference, the people said.