If these Ducks actually played with wings, they would've left quite a feather-storm today at the John Wooden Center.
After handling Oregon State on Thursday, UCLA was simply swept off the floor against Oregon, the frenetic, quick-footed Ducks defeating the Bruins 83-62. Some musings from the game:
The Ducks can score, and can score quickly
Truthfully, Oregon's offense proved to be too much from the get-go. By the end of the first half, the Ducks were on pace to score in the 100's, taking a 52-23 lead into halftime. Too often, Oregon would get a shot off just about 10 seconds into the shot clock, with the Bruins still pedaling into their defensive positions. If it wasn't Jasmin Holliday (21 points) and Danielle Love (16) draining quick jumpers from the perimeter, Oregon had Liz Brenner (15) muscling her way in the post.
"We allowed it to be a blitz," coach Cori Close said. "We sent three people to the ball and reached, or we let them get offensive rebounds so that we had to play defense for 70-80 seconds. As fast as they were, we knew we had to play transition defense and out-rebound them. The reality is that we didn't play the way we needed to, which fed exactly into the way Oregon wanted to play."
A Perimeter-Oriented Game
Save the efforts of Brenner, this was a contest mostly powered from the perimeter. And it was only natural, as both teams relied heavily on zone defense. The difference, however, was that when UCLA went zone, the Ducks - as active and mobile as they were - would find the open shooter (10-for-27 from beyond the arc), but when Oregon showed zone, the Bruins struggled to find a decent look at the basket, often using all of the shot clock to get a shot off.
And even when the Ducks misfired, they chased down the offensive rebounds for second-chance opportunities. Overall, the Ducks scored 27 second-chance points, in addition to 20 points off of turnovers.
Extended Minutes for Brooks
Chalk it to the need for breathers against Oregon's high-octane, fast-paced offense, the advantages that come with having a shooter on the floor, or simply a coach's whim, but this was the first game in which freshman walk-on Madeline Brooks played extended minutes. And she wasn't too shabby, either. Defensively, Brooks held her own, staying in front of her player and making the necessary rotations. That, and she scored her first career three-pointer, a spot-up trey off of an assist from Rebekah Gardner, who had a game-high 22 points.
"I'm thankful for Madeline; she's the first one in the gym and she gets here two hours before the game so she can get extra shots up when no one else is here," Close said. "She may not have the tools as some of our other players, but she's maximizing what she can contribute for her team. The fact of the matter is, she earned her minutes."
One other item of news to note: Kacy Swain went down in a heap in the second half after being hit in the head, and her status is a day-to-day situation.
She may not don a bizarre mask or have a spandex costume secretly stashed away in a beaten-up trash bin near you, but Markel Walker was something of a heroine tonight, catalyzing the Bruins to a 69-60 win over the Oregon State Beavers at the John Wooden Center.
It was an overall satisfactory night for a Bruin team that has increasingly shown throughout the course of the season that its strength is its transition game. At times, the pace of the game sputtered, but UCLA got off to the races when needed, thanks in large part to Walker's efforts. Here are some quick post-game pointers:
Back on Boards
After being out-rebounded by USC 48-40 this past Saturday, UCLA did a thorough job of dominating the glass against Oregon State, owning a 47-31 advantage on the boards. Coach Cori Close has been adamant that it is the hunger for gobbling up rebounds that will drive this team, and tonight was a stellar showing in that regards.
"I want this team to feel how much more fun it is to get out in transition, but you have to scratch and claw on the defensive boards in order to have those opportunities," Close said. "I want us to continue to fight for those rebounds because it feeds into the way we play best, especially when we're playing with a four-guard lineup."
Walker was undoubtedly the best at putting said theory to use. Whether it was seizing second-chance opportunities or reeling in missed Oregon State shots, the third-year guard/forward did her best to channel her inner Kevin Love, amassing a total of 18 rebounds by game's end. And speaking of which...
Moves Like Walker
The honest truth is that no pop song has yet to be named after her, but the coaching staff had to have been beaming (maybe slightly grooving discreetly) to Walker's all-around performance tonight. She may not have been the most efficient shooting (5-for-15 from the field) and did have some slip-ups (five turnovers), but it was the timeliness of her play that largely dictated the results.
Besides the rebounding, Walker got on a roll in the assists department, heaving outlet passes left and right. The highlight came with 11:40 left in the game, when Walker snared a defensive rebound and promptly hurled the ball the full length of the court to a breaking Rebekah Gardner for the easy layup.
"I like playing with her, because she finds me," Gardner casually admitted with a smile, before pausing. "She finds all of us actually, so it's fun playing with Markel."
There were also multiple possessions where Walker played out of the post. And while playing from that position isn't exactly her first preference, she did show flashes of effectiveness with her back to the basket.
"Playing from the post lets me see the court," Walker said. "Instead of facing up and facing the defender, I can see everything, so I can make the skip pass, the pass in front of me, or attack the basket."
Walker simply was the do-it-all cog to the Bruins' victory, finishing the game one assist shy of a triple double with 16 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, and a block.
A Pretty Transition Game
It bears no repeating, but the Bruins were just too much for the Beavers whenever they got out on the run. And it wasn't just Walker, Gardner (19 points), and Thea Lemberger (9), either. Mariah Williams, Rhema Gardner, and Corinne Costa all contributed, scoring key baskets in transition as well. It was, to put it shortly, a brand of basketball that Close called "pretty."
"As a coach, you think about how many fastbreaks happen with one dribble or none at all," Close said. "When we can use our legs to create angles and hit passes without having to put the ball on the ground, that's really pretty, and it shows a lot of growth in our teamwork."
It might just take a
play on words for the Bruins to put last week's loss to USC behind them.
Scratch that - ask coach
Cori Close, and it's a certainty that the only way her team can rebound this
week is to, well, rebound.
"We have to
rebound, that's the bottom line," Close said. "This team is best when
we can use our versatility and attack before the defense sets its rotations,
but we can't do that until we get rebounds and secure that end of the
The crashing of the boards
will be just one of several aspects to look out for this week, with UCLA
hosting Oregon State tonight at 7 p.m. at the John Wooden Center, followed by
an afternoon tilt against Oregon on Saturday.
continues to be one of the coaching staff's primary preaching points this
season, it was made clear against USC that the Bruins will need to generate
more offense. And according to Close, it's a situation that has been duly
"Oregon State plays
a lot of zone, and they're going to try and play off of Rhema (Gardner) and
Mariah (Williams)," Close said. "We've been working on how to put
Mariah and Rhema in positions where they can score because I expect Oregon
State to really try and make our role players make plays."
Speaking of the
opposition, the Beavers come into Westwood boasting the talents of one Patricia
Bright, who leads the conference in blocked shots (3.76 swats per game). But be
that as it may, Bright's interior presence won't exactly be top priority.
"Bright is a a great
player and does her job really well, but I'm more worried about stopping their
three-point shots and keeping them out of the lane," Close said. "If
she starts to alter the game with her shot-blocking ability, we'll move her
around and do some things to limit that factor."
This week figures to
provide a clearer perspective of where exactly the Bruins stand in a rather
convoluted Pac-12 battle; Stanford has clearly separated itself from the pack
with a 6-0 conference record, but as it stands, UCLA (2-3) remains just two
games behind second-place USC (4-1), with four other teams tied with the Bruins
for fifth place.
In the end, these are
two very winnable games for the blue and gold, and two wins keep the Bruins in
the thick of the conference race.
Six former Bruins are playing in the Humana Challenge beginning today in Palm Desert and continuing through Sunday. They are Scott McCarron, Kevin Chappell, Spencer Levin, Tom Pernice, Jr., Brandt Jobe and John Merrick. Formerly the Bob Hope Classic, this event also features three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson and two-time British Open winner Greg Norman. Amateur celebrities entered include Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, Grammy Award winner Smokey Robinson and NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving.
UCLA started the season as the favorite in the Pac-12
Conference men's basketball race and looks busy reminding everyone why - especially USC.
The Bruins crushed their neighbors, 66-47, on Sunday
night at Galen Center. It was their third win in a row and pushed the Trojans
(5-13, 0-5) to their sixth loss in a row.
Coach Ben Howland pointed to his teams' efforts in
practice to improve their offensive execution and called a 44-19 rebounding
"It's been our main focus since the Cal game - get better
on the offensive end, which takes the pressure off of us," Howland said. "This
is big for us to get a true road win and to beat our USC rivals. Both of those
are big for us - no question."
UCLA took over during the first half, turning a 9-9 tie
into a 37-19 halftime lead, using runs of 14-1 and 11-0 to take over.
"Being here and playing against those guys, once we
started clicking, rebounds and pushing the ball one after another we were able
to get the lead up to 15-16 points," David Wear said.
USC coach Kevin O'Neill called the Bruins a team that's "ever-improving,"
which should have Bruins fans beaming with excitement. Twins David and Travis
Wear combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds, which shows their continued
progression as players. And senior Lazeric Jones continued
to grow comfortable with his move to the wing, adding 15 points and five
"Right now we've found our niche a little bit," said
Travis, who had a game high 19 points and eight rebounds. "We just need to
expand on this and keep improving."
Now, the Bruins need to ride this momentum on its
upcoming road trip to face Oregon and Oregon State and stay near the top of the
Sometimes guys can be tough on each other - especially good
Going bald? You've probably already heard it from your
oldest friends. Wearing an ugly shirt is a sure-fire way to be on the receiving
end of some trash talk from buddies. But Tyler Lamb was quick to deny giving
teammate Josh Smith a hard time about putting on some extra weight during this
"No, no, no, I'm not making Josh mad," Lamb said when
asked if he or his teammates called him fat when he returned to campus this
fall weighing well over 300 pounds.
Coach Ben Howland and the training staff have been
working with Smith, whose improved conditioning during the course of the season
has the Bruins believing he can continue to progress and cause problems for the
"So much attention from defense, the other guys," David
Wear said about playing with an effective Smith. "He definitely opens a lot of
guys on our team to get the ball in scoring opportunities."
Wear and Smith paired up for one of the most impressive
offensive sets in the Bruins 75-58 win over Arizona State when they executed a
textbook give-and-go for an easy bucket.
"I saw he was in the post and had his man sealed," Wear
said. "I called for (the ball), gave him the ball and acted like I was going to
go screen away and cut down the middle. I saw my man go to double and yeah, it
was just a wide-open play."
Lamb used the phrase "commands attention" when explaining
the impact Smith has on the Bruins offense. If he has that sort of presence for
the Bruins on Sunday night, it could be another runaway victory.
"I hope he continues to take off from where he was
(against ASU)," Howland said.
Howland is right - every game is a "must win" now: Howland
used this very phrase with reporters earlier this week. He knows the Bruins
need to win the Pac-12 Conference to assure a spot in the NCAA Tournament and
now it's crunch time. They've passed the halfway point on the regular season
and the Pac-12 won't be overloaded with at-large bids. Beating a 5-12 USC team
that is winless in its first four Pac-12 games is most definitely a must-win.
going inside - early and often: Lazeric Jones might be the
Bruins leading scorer and most dangerous offensive player - it's why Howland's
decision to play him more on the wing is such a good one. But that doesn't mean
UCLA shouldn't make Travis and David Wear and Josh Smith the focal points of
the offense. Wear teams down and pound them with the size advantage. It should
open things up for Jones and the rest of the perimeter players, which leads to
our last statement.
needs to make more 3-pointers to keep winning: The
Bruins are averaging .345 as a team from behind the arc, good for 10th
in the Pac-12, which isn't so good. The Bruins need to make more, preferably at
a 40 percent clip, to keep winning.
As far as rivalry games go, it wasn't exactly the most glamorous of contests.
In the first UCLA-USC get-together of the season, it was more clanked shots and hands in faces than swished jumpers and swift ball movement. And while it was a far cry from an offensive showcase, it was the Trojans who converted and got the key buckets down the stretch, slipping by the Bruins 47-43 at the John Wooden Center. The takeaways from the game:
SC's Defensive Scheme
After the game, USC coach Michael Cooper made it known that the collective plan was to shut down the Bruins' top three scorers in Thea Lemberger, Markel Walker, and Rebekah Gardner. Clearly, Cooper and his team made their mark, the trio shooting a collective 10-for-40 from the field.
"We shut down the players that we wanted to," Cooper said. "Rebekah was the only one that got away, but Markel and Thea were two of the ones we knew we had to at least keep below their averages."
While Gardner was able to find her way to the basket with a game-high 20 points, not having those other offensive options hurt the Bruins in the waning minutes of the game when victory was still within reach.
Battle of the Guards
Defense is a specialty for Mariah Williams, and she drew a challenging assignment in having to go up against Ashley Corral, USC's all-time 3-point leader. The Trojans' senior guard ended the day shooting just 3-of-12, but did some damage with eight assists.
"I enjoy guarding her," Williams said. "It was tough when they started doing the high-ball screens; she did a really good job of going shoulder to shoulder with her screener and made some things happen as a result."
Williams herself was a pleasant surprise for the Bruins on the offensive end, all eight of her points coming on jumpers. In fact, the junior guard scored the Bruins' first six points of the game on three consecutive jump shots, and would score another one late in the second half.
"Mariah played really steady and did a great job for us today," Close said. "The reality is that they were playing off of her, so we wanted to set a set play, knowing they were double-teaming off of her."
The Two-Minute Stretch
Heading into the final timeout of the game at the 2:27 mark, the Bruins were still only down 43-40 and got as close as 44-43 after Williams sunk her fourth jumper with 23 seconds left. But even taking into consideration a not-so-stellar offense from either team, it was the Bruins' struggle with getting second-chance looks that eventually decided the outcome.
"USC played really good defense and tried to make us play to our weaknesses, and we did the same to them," Close said. "The difference was, when they played to their weakness and missed a shot, they went and got another one, and we weren't able to. Both teams forced the first shot they wanted to force, and so it really came down to the focus on rebounding."
This isn't just an exciting weekend for UCLA and USC fans
- it's the sort of sports weekend that affects work production and has fans salivating all week.
Football fans are stoked with the NFL playoffs while the
pro version of the LA championship happens Saturday night with the Lakers and
Clippers facing off in Staples Center.
And there's a full slate of college basketball - with
UCLA's trip to Galen Center to face crosstown foe USC wrapping up the weekend.
It comes for the Bruins after a sweep of the Arizona
schools last week at Honda Center and a week of rest and practice.
"It's good from my standpoint," Coach Ben Howland said about the Pac-12
schedule that has UCLA taking the week off before playing USC. "It's an
important week of practice. It's the last time we'll have four or five
practices in a row before a game. We've got to utilize this."
Sophomore guard Tyler
Lamb said playing in the crosstown rivalry was one of the reasons he wanted
to attend UCLA and said he knew it wasn't just a big deal for the team, but for
alumni too. Forward David Wear said he's
fielded a few questions from his classmates too.
"A couple people were asking me what time it was at and
are excited because it's USC," Wear said. "They wanted to go out and watch it."
For sports fans, it's just a fantastic finish to what is
shaping up to be a fun weekend of viewing and cheering.
UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland isn't always
given his due when it comes to his sense of humor. The intense, focused coach
let loose a little bit during his weekly press conference in Westwood leading
into Sunday's rivalry game at USC.
When a question came up about who the team's best dunker
is - and if he cared - it lead to a room full of smiles after somebody asked
him about his dunking prowess as a player.
"I was a 'use-the-backboard, fundamentally-sound,
off-the-backboard, layup guy," Howland said before smiling and answering if it
was by necessity or choice that he used his fundamentals instead of
"I was also a tight shorts, tight short shorts guy. It's
funny you go back and see the old games, just funny. There's so much material
now on these shorts, you're just used to it now."
Press sports reporter Beth Harris poked at Howland, mentioning that he's
referenced that's how he attracted his wife Kim, which caused a room full of
straight-faced reporters to chuckle.
And for the record, Howland agreed that freshman Norman
Powell is the team's best dunker.
Bruin fans could get used to that
sort of game.
UCLA capped a stellar week in Orange
County with a 75-58 Pac-12 Conference victory over Arizona State at Honda
Center on Saturday night.
And it started in the post, where
sophomore Joshua Smith did his best to make up for missing Thursday
night's win over Arizona due to a concussion. The 6-foot-10 center had his best
performance of the season with 18 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. Coach
Ben Howland pointed out that Smith not only looked for his shots, he
attacked the basket.
"He opens up everything for
us," said senior guard Lazeric Jones about Smith. "There are a
lot of cuts to the basket, wide open jump shots. Josh is a force, and teams
have to help down on him or he can make them pay for it if they're playing him
1-on-1. And Josh is a good passer too, so for him to be aggressive can really
He was accompanied by Travis
and David Wear, who both followed up great games on Thursday night with
another solid showing. Travis had 16 points and seven rebounds, five on the
offensive glass. David had eight points and nine rebounds.
It wasn't just the post players who
stood out. Jones and Jerime Anderson continued to give the Bruins (9-7,
2-2) multiple attack points. Jones had eight points, 10 assists and two steals,
while Anderson had seven points, four assists and four steals. Tyler Lamb
and Norman Powell both added nine points each as well. Powell and Smith
paired for all 27 bench points for the Bruins, which only gave up six to the
short-handed Sun Devils (5-10, 1-2), who suspended three players for their trip
to Southern California and were limited to six scholarship players.
"Our players seized the
opportunity," Howland said.
"We had a great weekend. It was a positive step."
UCLA hasn't had the season it
anticipated, just two games above .500, but it's an interesting time for the
team, which is still in the thick of the Pac-12 race. Players and Howland both
pointed to three strong practices early in the week that led to a pair of
victories. Now, they'll rest for two days before having a full week of practice
before playing rival USC at the Galen Center on Sunday, Jan. 15.
"I'm glad we've got a week
off," Howland said. "They're starting school (again). We need this
"These practices will be real
big in the weeks to come (for us)."
The Bruins need to turn those
practices into more performances like their wins over Arizona and ASU to prove
their coach right.