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UCLA might be pushing things on offense

Up-tempo game has never been Ben Howland's style, but Bruins appear to have the players to run the court this season.

November 08, 2012|By Baxter Holmes
  • UCLA coach Ben Howland holds his final news conference of the season at the J.D. Morgan Center on March 13, 2012.
UCLA coach Ben Howland holds his final news conference of the season at the… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

The name Ben Howland is not synonymous with the term "up-tempo offense."

On the basketball spectrum, the two are a country mile apart. With Howland as coach, pushing the ball upcourt has not been the UCLA way.

Yet, the Bruins coach says he is flipping his script to run that offense this season, which for the No. 13 Bruins starts Friday night against Indiana State at newly renovated Pauley Pavilion.

The "Guru of Go" himself, Paul Westhead, understands skepticism about the move and whether it will work.

"Ultimately, what Ben Howland does and what he's good at, that will make them a winning team — not a new wrinkle," said Westhead, who coaches Oregon's women's basketball team but was famous for his high-scoring Loyola Marymount teams from the late 1980s.

What Howland does, what he's good at, is well-documented: a grind-it-out, half-court scheme.

"We still have to be good in the half court," Howland said.

Howland previously toyed with speeding up the pace only to revert to his old ways. He has also said he would play zone defense in the past, only to revert to almost exclusively playing man-to-man, the scheme he has long preferred.

So, if Howland flip-flops, it won't be the first time.

Still, UCLA's players believe this season will be different.

"Coach is giving us the first 10 to 15 seconds of the shot clock to do what we want to do and see what we've got before we set it up, and I think everyone loves that," forward Travis Wear said.

The keys to UCLA's offense rest in the hands of freshman Kyle Anderson and senior Larry Drew, point guards who will play in stretches together. Their mission: Push the ball.

"I think the whole Pac-12 plays that way," Anderson said. "We're just going to fit in with the conference. It's a better style of play."

The touted 6-foot-9 Anderson earned the nickname "Slow-Mo" in high school because he never seemed to be moving fast, but that pace won't cut it if UCLA's offense is going to function.

"Coach said he wants me as 'Reg-Mo' instead of 'Slow-Mo,'" Anderson joked.

This is the first time Anderson will be in an up-tempo offense, and he said operating it well all depends on being in shape.

Which is where the biggest question marks exist for UCLA, specifically with Josh Smith. The 6-10, 300-plus-pound center has struggled with conditioning since he arrived at UCLA, which has resulted in limited minutes and a severe drop-off in sorely needed production.

Smith says he's in better shape, and teammates back up that claim, though Howland has said that Smith still "has a long way to go."

As for the new offense, Smith seems happy. "My job is just to run down and post up, and that's what I like to do," he said.

Several players say the scheme fits UCLA's personnel. "We're athletic, we can run the floor, we can hit open shots," guard Norman Powell said. "It should be fun this year. We should be scoring a lot of points."

With the 6-10 Wear twins, 6-9, 275-pound center Tony Parker and Smith, UCLA's lineup is heavy with post players and light on svelte guards, especially with guards Tyler Lamb and Shabazz Muhammad on the sideline. Lamb is coming back from knee surgery; Muhammad has a strained shoulder and has not been cleared to participate in games by the NCAA, which is investigating his eligibility.

Howland said he'd like to play as many as 10 players, which could help stave off in-game fatigue. But it's not just physical conditioning that makes a breakneck offense work, Westhead said.

"When you say conditioning, it's more mental than physical," Westhead said. "You have to think fastbreak. You have to want to fastbreak."

Players from across the country always say they want to run because it's exciting, produces highlights and points, and seems fun, Westhead said.

"But do you really?" he asked. "Basketball players in general, they speak the running game, but they have great difficulty in doing the running game."

In their exhibition trip to China, the Bruins rolled in three games and their new scheme put up big numbers. David Wear said they're more than ready to try it out for a whole season.

But, the Guru of Go warned, "It's not an easy world."

If it's not to Howland's liking, UCLA may leave that world in a hurry.

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