LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Joshua Smith #34 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench late in the second half against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at LA Sports Arena on November 15, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Middle Tennessee State won 86-66. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
UCLA looked bad against Loyola Marymount. They looked even worse against the Middle Tennessee St. Blue Raiders, getting blasted for open three pointer after three pointer. MTSU made all their threes while the Bruins kept on clanging all of their looks. Tyler Lamb and Lazeric Jones are proving to be poor replacements for Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt up to this point offensively, although you figure the two Bruins should eventually start nailing some of their looks. There's definite talent to make things happen. Jones has been exceptionally bad, turning over the ball and refusing to hit shots of any meaning of any sort (Jones is now at 3-20 shooting this season, which is really, really bad).
But what must really irk Ben Howland is that its the defense that's falling apart. Despite all the size inside, the defense by his interior men has been spotty, particularly in Nelson's absence. The Wear twins might be able to produce offensively, but they seem totally lost when it comes to playing man-to-man defense or bodying up on their men, and MTSU took full advantage of this situation on Saturday. This forces help defenders to try and come over and help out the Bruins big men, and helped leave wide open shots for the Blue Raiders.
The result was one of the most embarrassing defeats in UCLA basketball history.
Head coach Ben Howland deserves a lot of the blame, since it's the THIRD straight season that the Bruins have come out and played flat. UCLA lost to Cal State Fullerton, Portland, and Long Beach State in 2009 en route to their first losing season of the Howland era. Although they returned to tournament form in 2010, they showed glimpses of inconsistency when they suffered an embarrassing fall to Montana. This has probably been the worst season of them all though.
Not that the Bruins should be considered dead. Even though UCLA has had their hiccups in non-conference play, they've proven they can bounce back and win and be competitive in-conference. The Wear twins should adjust and start playing better the further they get acclimated to the system, the backcourt should feel more secure in their situation as the games go by, and Jones will feel less of the pressure once Anderson and D'End Parker find their way in the guard rotation.
Howland is looking like he's ready to adjust and start putting a zone defense in place to try and lock down offenses and their dribble drive capability. This should help the Bruins focus on using their superior frontcourt depth since they should still be able to get a lot of rebounds regardless of their positioning on the court. At least the UCLA headmaster is making adjustments, hopefully in time to save the season from absolute oblivion.
But regardless of what adjustments Howland is making now, it should never have taken double-digit losses at home to average to mediocre mid-major squads to awaken him.