Tuesday, September 26

Turnovers and missed free throws plague UCLA men’s basktball in loss to USC

Reeves Nelson pulls down one of his seven rebounds against USC Sunday.

Reeves Nelson pulls down one of his seven rebounds against USC Sunday. Michael Chen

With a little more than two minutes left in the game, the UCLA men’s basketball team was still in it.

Despite all the turnovers and missed foul shots, the Bruins had the ball trailing by just four points against USC, thanks in large part to a big rebounding advantage and the Trojans’ inability to shut the door on a persistent UCLA squad.

Yet in a moment that summed up what kind of game it was and season it has been for the Bruins, UCLA point guard Jerime Anderson was stripped at midcourt by USC’s Marcus Johnson, who then took the ball for an emphatic dunk, putting USC ahead 58-52.

While there was still 2:17 to go, that play essentially ended the game, a 68-64 loss to the Trojans on Sunday before 8,836 at the Galen Center.

The loss marked the first time the Bruins had lost at the Galen Center since it opened four years ago, and the first time since 2004 ““ coach Ben Howland’s first season at UCLA ““ the Bruins were swept by their crosstown rivals.

What proved to be the undoing for the Bruins were two of the things that have plagued the team all season long: turnovers and poor foul shooting.

The Bruins turned the ball over 20 times ““ the most since they had 23 against Stanford on Jan. 9 ““ leading to 26 USC points.

And the Bruins’ turnover problems began early: UCLA sophomore point guard Malcolm Lee turned the ball over on the Bruins’ first possession, part of three UCLA turnovers within the first three minutes of the game. Lee, who finished with 13 points and a game-high six turnovers, said he needs to read the defenders better and not commit as many mistakes handling the ball.

“This game I felt that we fought but we had a lot of mistakes on our end, and that’s controllable,” Lee said. “We only do the things that we can control, and we didn’t do a good job at that.”

One reason for the high number of UCLA turnovers was a full-court pressure by the Trojans, something Howland said he had not seen them do too much of this season.

“They did a good job in their press,” Howland said. “They haven’t really shown that a lot. They forced some turnovers, but we have to be able to take better care of the ball in those situations.”

Almost equally as costly for the Bruins were the continuing struggles at the free-throw line. The Bruins entered the game as the second worst free-throw shooting team in the Pac-10 ““ just in front of USC ““ shooting 63.5 percentage from the charity stripe. On Sunday, the Bruins stayed true to form, making just nine of their 18 free throws.

Making it all the more frustrating for the Bruins was the fact that an increased attention to foul shooting in practice has yet to yield positive results in the game. Senior forward Nikola Dragovic said that each player shot 100 free throws after every practice last week, yet those additional foul shots did not bring about an improved result.

“It’s got to be free throws are more mental than anything,” freshman forward Reeves Nelson said. “I missed my two so I can’t really say anything.”

If there was an area of the game in which the Bruins can take away as a positive, it is the rebounding performance in which the Bruins outrebounded the Trojans 46 to 25. Coming into the game, the Bruins placed a large emphasis on rebounding as USC boasted the highest rebounding margin in the Pac-10 at plus-2.5 as well as the top rebounder in the conference in sophomore center Nikola Vucevic (9.8 rebounds per game).

The fact that the Bruins were able to win the rebounding margin and hold Vucevic to eight rebounds only highlighted how costly the turnovers and missed foul shots were.

“We did a great job rebounding,” Howland said. “We beat them on the boards by 20. Normally you don’t lose too many games where you outboard an opponent by 20, but our foul shooting and turnovers were the two things that really hurt us in that situation.”

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