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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
A closer look: UCLA 92, Chaminade 60

By Eamonn Brennan

Overview: For an entire half, it looked like the debacle would continue. Chaminade played UCLA to a draw in the first, and the Bruins looked every bit as disjointed and disorganized as they had in losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. But the Bruins recovered nicely in the second half, asserting their superiority and dominating the Silverswords 92-60.

Turning point: Chaminade was at its best in the first half when it got easy shots on UCLA's porous defense. In the first five minutes of the second half, the Silverswords started settling for contested 3-pointers. Dominique Cooks, Bennie Murray and Waly Coulibaly missed a spate of shots from beyond the arc during this stretch, and they picked a bad time to do so. UCLA's previously dormant outside shooters -- Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson -- dropped back-to-back 3s, and by the 15-minute mark, the Bruins had opened a healthy 54-43 lead. The game was never close again.

Why UCLA won: The Bruins made shots. It sounds silly, but it's really that simple. Lazeric Jones was 3-for-20 in his first two games.  He was 8-of-18 Monday night. Lamb was 6-of-11 from the field, and Anderson was 6-for-8 (including a 4-of-6 clip from 3) and scored 18 points. The common read on UCLA is good frontcourt, questionable backcourt; if the Bruins can simplify their offense and take (and make) good shots, they'll be in much better offensive shape going forward.

Why Chaminade lost: Give the Silverswords some credit; they were certainly up for their unlikely task. It couldn't have hurt their confidence to know how deeply this UCLA team was struggling upon their arrival in Maui, of course. Even so, one program is a Division II outfit based in Hawaii, the other is one of the most renowned brand names in all of sports. UCLA was far from perfect here, but they had more than enough pure size and talent to wear Chaminade down once the Silverswords started pressing and forcing in the second half.

Star of the game: Anderson. He didn't just provide perimeter scoring, which UCLA desperately needs, he did so efficiently. UCLA needs to improve in a variety of ways, but intelligent, efficient backcourt play might be the most important.

What it means: I could go either way on this. The first school of thought probably says hey, you know what? It's a win. If you're Ben Howland, you're just happy to see your team put the finishing touches on a clearly inferior opponent. Maybe it builds some much-needed confidence. Maybe it engenders some much-needed cohesion. The other school of thought is that UCLA never really looked good here; despite the win, there are still deep improvements needed in Westwood, both tangible and otherwise. We'll see.

More observations: Much of the attention Monday night focused on UCLA forward Reeves Nelson, who most recently added "missing the plane to Hawaii" alongside "screaming at his coach during a film session," "missing a practice," and "actively sulking on the sidelines" to his list of questionable recent antics. Howland kept Nelson out for the first half of the game as "punishment," waiting to check Nelson in a few minutes into the second. It would be tempting to see UCLA's second-half surge as a function of Nelson's presence, but really, his impact was minimal: one point, five rebounds, 0-for-2 from the field. The good news? Nelson high-fived his teammates when he came off the floor. Baby steps.

Speaking of UCLA forwards, big-bodied forward Joshua Smith is still clearly out of shape. Toward the end of the game, Smith looked actively disinterested; he blocked a shot but failed to run up the court, and when a timeout was eventually (and mercifully) called, Smith moved as quickly to get to the bench as he had on the floor all night. It's unfortunate to see Smith still needs to work on his body, because the former McDonald's All-American (please, no jokes) has the feet and hands of a player with serious NBA potential. At some point, he's going to have to get in shape. If he doesn't, UCLA's ceiling is that much more limited.

What’s next: The Bruins will get a much better test of how much they've improved this week when they play the winner of Georgetown-Kansas at 9:30 ET Tuesday night. Whatever happens, it should be interesting. That's the early theme of this UCLA season, anyway.