UCLA unable to avoid predictable letdown
January, 26, 2013
By Peter Yoon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsShabazz Muhammad scored 18 points, but he wasn't surprised the Bruins had a letdown against Arizona State.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Shabazz Muhammad could see this coming from a mile away.
Ben Howland began to worry about it almost as soon as the final horn sounded Thursday, Jordan Adams felt it almost from the opening tip Saturday and David Wear was feeling it well after the game had ended.
UCLA lost to Arizona State 78-60 Saturday in what has to be considered a classic letdown loss after the Bruins delivered a major upset Thursday at No. 6 Arizona.
The words "trap game" and "overlook" came up frequently in the aftermath of that 84-73 victory in Tucson, but the Bruins (16-5, 6-2 Pac-12) were powerless to do anything about Saturday, even though they were fully aware it might happen.
"There was no motivation," Muhammad said of the team's lackluster effort. "Going into this game, we were like, 'This is a trap game and we have to play hard because we just got a great win off of Arizona,' and then we come out here and not play as hard."
This type of inconsistency is what you get with a young team still trying to find its way. For every impact win, a bad loss is lurking around the corner. And while Arizona State (16-4, 5-2) isn't exactly a pushover, the inability to back up the big win Thursday makes it a bad loss for UCLA.
"It's a learning experience," Howland said. "We're very young, and the first thing you worry about after a big win on the road at Arizona is a letdown. ... I just thought that we didn't have the same fire that we needed like we had Thursday night."
That much was evident almost from the start, as the Bruins, not exactly speedy to begin with, looked a step slow and low on energy on both ends of the court. They managed to stay in the game for most of the first half and were down only one, 34-33, with 1:46 left before halftime.
Arizona State ended the first half on a 5-0 run for a 39-33 halftime lead, and then opened the second half with a 12-4 run for a 51-37 lead, and the lead stayed in double digits for most of the rest of the game.
"I don't think we approached it that well," Adams said. "In our minds we were [motivated], but it didn't show."
And when things started going awry in the second half, the Bruins didn't know how to stop the snowball from rolling downhill. It showed all over the court. UCLA, shooting a Pac-12-leading 47 percent coming in to the game, shot a season-low 34.7 percent Saturday and 28.9 percent in the second half. It was only the second time this season the Bruins failed to crack 40 percent.
Offense has been this team's calling card, but the shots weren't falling and a below-average defense couldn't keep the team in the game. The players began to panic, went away from the offensive game plan and tried to play hero by forcing things. It didn't work.
"I think we were going a little one-on-one too much instead of running our sets," Adams said.
The Sun Devils outrebounded UCLA 53-33 and outscored UCLA in the paint, 46-26. It was an obvious case of one team wanting it more than the other and an even more obvious case of a team crashing down to earth after riding high less than 48 hours earlier.
"It was such a great win over Arizona," Muhammad said. "We were so satisfied and everybody was happy and we just didn't look forward to this game as much. That's what I thought as a player, and we just have to learn to -- even though we get the big wins -- we've got to win the ones that we really need in the trap games."
The Bruins can ill-afford to lose another. They fell two games behind Oregon with the loss, and it won't be easy to win the Pac-12 with any more notches in the loss column. Plus, all the national goodwill gained in the win Thursday and the bump in RPI, will be nullified by leaving the Grand Canyon State with only a split.
"It's extremely disappointing," David Wear said. "It basically takes away that feeling of beating Arizona. It erases that. It's extremely tough. We were a little slow today, slow on our rotations and beat up from the last game. We just have to be able to focus down and realize we can't beat a team like Arizona and then come in a drop a game like this."
You can't say the Bruins didn't see it coming.