If the UCLA men’s basketball season up to this point was to be distilled into one sound bite ““ and there are plenty to choose from ““ here’s my pick:
“We’re not very good in one specific area right now.”
Ben Howland said it, but what’s more important is when he said it: Friday evening. That was two days before the Pauley Pavilion scoreboard read Cal Poly SLO 70, UCLA 68 in a Sunday night stunner.
The roars of the Mustangs as they emerged victorious were loud, but the ire of those in attendance was just as audible. As a UCLA assistant coach sat to do a postgame radio interview, broadcast over the public address system inside the arena, a few fans stayed back to yell “Fire Howland!” repeatedly, nearly drowning out the conversation.
The feeling of mutiny among fans is high. So, too, is the feeling of disconnect around this team.
Sitting in the press room after the game, we heard plenty of explanations for the Bruins’ sloppy showing Sunday, and their slow start overall.
Howland said Norman Powell didn’t realize what the score was at the end of the game, which resulted in Powell intentionally fouling in a tie game and sending the Mustangs to the line for the game-winning free throws. For a team that is nearly half freshmen, a rookie mistake wasn’t expected from a sophomore.
When asked about the numerous defensive lapses and how a Cal Poly SLO team with one guy as tall as 6-foot-9-inches out-rebounded the Bruins in the second half (including two offensive boards in the last two minutes), Howland offered this:
“We’re just not super athletic.”
For a team lacking confidence on both ends, that quote will do little to inspire the players.
The Bruins have been tepid with the ball, especially against a zone defense, which they can fully expect to see the rest of the season. On the defensive end they’ve been just as hesitant, not knowing when to switch assignments or who to box out at key junctures.
Plus, six games in, no one’s role is clear yet. Junior guard Tyler Lamb, one of three upperclassmen, saw he was lost in the shuffle and announced his decision to transfer earlier on Sunday.
Come game time, Howland tried bringing Kyle Anderson off the bench, opting to not use the two-point guard like he had used in every previous game. It resulted in a 1-point, 4-assist, 5-rebound stat line from Anderson.
“We’re going to have to look at all of our options,” Howland said after the game.
If those sound bites from Howland weren’t enough, just listen to Shabazz Muhammad after his home debut.
There were equal amounts of angst with the offense…
“It’s pretty different, the half-court game here. … I think we have to go in transition more.”
And the defense…
“We didn’t have any hardworking intensity out there rebounding, and it took a toll on us tonight.”
Muhammad didn’t mince words, but his criticisms hardly could have applied to himself. Through three games, the 6-foot-6-inch guard has shown he’s the hardest worker on the floor, going after rebounds and getting free throws more often than his taller counterparts.
One star does not a team make, but his foreboding words carry a lot of weight here.
What’s clear is that the team sounds far from unified at this stage in the season. The chords of discontent are humming, and there’s no sign of when the Bruins will change their tune.