LAHAINA, Hawaii ““ Look at it this way: UCLA is to this year’s crop of elite teams what snorkeling is to scuba diving.
You’ll see some nice things snorkeling, and there are plenty of lamer things you can do with your time in Maui. Heck, if every condition is perfect, snorkeling can even be better than scuba diving.
It’s just that most of the time, snorkeling is out of scuba diving’s league (I just confirmed: League is a nautical term. Pun intended).
The Bruins did all right for what they had on Tuesday. Minus De’end Parker and with Joshua Smith rendered completely invisible (not the easiest thing to do), they certainly made things interesting.
For this UCLA team, against a team like Kansas, that’s about all you can ask for at this point.
By no means is Kansas even the most formidable team in this field; had the Bruins beat the Jayhawks, they would have faced the Duke Blue Devils tonight in the championship game, and probably the only thing that would have made that game interesting would have been if Ben Howland and Mike Krzyzewski decided to coach it in grass skirts and coconut bras.
The second half of the Kansas game was a pretty good indicator of what this team will be like.
If the guards shoot the ball well, and if they can get some inspired defense, the Bruins can hang with teams like the Jayhawks.
So why did they still lose? Well, Smith was neutralized by foul trouble, and the first-half deficit was too much to overcome.
Neither of those problems are fluky: UCLA has dealt with those over and over again in the past. Might as well call those systemic issues that need to be addressed.
Last week I wrote that Jerime Anderson needed to be the leader of this team. What do ya know, he reads my column (yeah, right)!
The senior point guard has played very well the first two games in Maui, showing improved leadership, decision-making and shot-making. All encouraging signs for this team going forward.
I also said that this team needed Reeves Nelson to be its Energizer bunny, and that much is evident.
His presence keyed the second-half surge against Chaminade, and he replicated that feat against Kansas. The guy even hit a trio of 3s!
Next on the agenda: Get Smith consistently involved in the game. The frontline of Nelson and the Wears was effective in a comeback situation against Kansas, but if Smith’s playing to his potential, you’re never down 20 points to begin with.
“I believe that our team is a very good team,” Anderson said. “If we continue to play hard and play with the intensity that we played with in the second half, we’ll be good.”
He is right, to a certain extent. This can be a good team, but certain conditions have to be met. The Bruins probably won’t be able to keep up the torrid 3-point shooting they have shown flashes of here in Maui, but they can’t afford to revert back to the bricklaying displays they showed off in their first two games.
The efforts can’t come in short bursts; they have to be sustained.
When you’ve got those scuba tanks, you have air for a long time. Sure the pressure’s greater when you’re a scuba diver, but you’re much better prepared to deal with that pressure.
At the least, it was important to see how UCLA fared against a top-notch opponent, the very reasoning behind coming to Maui in the first place. This team needed to learn what it’s going to take to swim with the big boys.
One run on Tuesday night showed us that there’s something out there.
Amidst all the minnows, guppies and kelp, you may just spot a sea turtle or a kraken every now and then. They’re rare for the time being, though, so enjoy them while you can.
I’ll end the analogy there. This is getting deep.
If you think he’s (Macadamia) nuts, e-mail Eshoff at