UCLA basketball report: Tuesday fast break

UCLA has some time to stew about it's New Year's Eve loss to Washington because the Bruins don't play again until Jan. 9 at USC and that's just fine by coach Ben Howland.

The Bruins spent Sunday going over game film and found numerous issues they need to clean up and Howland said he's grateful to have the extra time.

"It comes at the right time because we have a lot of things to improve on and get better," Howland said of the break. "We’re really trying to take that to heart in terms of the things we’ve got to improve on as a team."

It also gives point guard Lazeric Jones extra time to heal. Jones suffered a ruptured tendon in the middle finger on his right (shooting) hand against Washington and sat out most of the second half. He will have to wear a splint, but isn't expected to miss any more game time.

He shot well at practice Tuesday, Howland said, making 41 of 50 shots in the 15-to-17 foot range.

"I think it’s given him confidence that 'I’m going to be able to play with this,' " Howland said. "In the second half [against Washington], he was really unsure. He didn’t know if it was broke, he didn’t know what it was. They splinted it. Now he kind of knows."

Fouled up Smith to change style

Center Joshua Smith, who has routinely found foul trouble this season, will use the free time to learn a new defensive strategy.

Instead of hedging screens, when Smith steps out and makes the ball handler dribble around him, Smith will be instructed to plug -- or stand his ground and let the ball handler come at him. When Smith fouled out against Washington last week, he picked up two fouls while hedging screens.

He leads the team with 44 personal fouls this season.

"I’ve vacillated all season long with Josh. Should he hedge, should he plug?" Howland said. "In retrospect, he probably should have plugged from the beginning and getting better and better at it. Right now he can’t get out there and hedge like we want him to so it’s going to more of a plug. I think that will help keep him out of foul trouble."

Rebounding from the loss

UCLA is out-rebounding opponents by more than four per game, but Howland is not satisfied, mainly because the Bruins were out-rebounded by both Washington State and Washington last week to open Pac-10 play.

"Our blockouts haven’t been very good," Howland said. "We’ve historically been a very good rebounding team. We should be out-boarding people."

The front line of Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt, Smith and Brendan Lane has held its own on the glass, but Howland would like to see his guards more active on missed shots. Jones, Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and Malcolm Lee are averaging a combined seven rebounds a game.

In the two games against Washington State and Washington, those four combined for six rebounds in 177 minutes.

"It’s something we've really got to get better at," Howland said. "It’s just an emphasis. They’ve got to get in there."

He added that rebounding is the hallmark of all good teams.

"When you look at the end of the year and look at who is in the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final four — those teams are always killing their opponents night in and night out on the glass," Howland said. "Beating them by seven, eight, nine, 10 rebounds a game and that’s something we’ve got to get better at and it starts with blocking out."

Balancing act

One thing Howland is pleased with is the balanced scoring attack and unselfish play the Bruins have displayed so far.

All five starters are averaging in double figures scoring and UCLA's 218 assists are second among the Pac-10 teams.

"One of the things that’s always important to me as a coach is to have a team that’s unselfish," Howland said. "That doesn’t care who scores or how many points anybody gets. It’s all about winning."

Howland said it's a fallacy that a player needs a big scoring average to get drafted into the NBA, pointing out that Russell Westbrook was the fourth pick in the draft and averaged only 12 points a game that year.

"Our best teams since I’ve been here are teams that have balance," Howland said. "That have four, five, six guys averaging in double figures. That’s great."

But, Howland said, the team still needs to get better at helping each other get open shots. Screening, he said, is a weak spot and an improvement in that area should help improve a team shooting percentage of .461.

"Watching our screens in our last game is painful because they’re not good enough," he said. "If we screen for each other and get each other open then we’re a very good shooting team. ... Our screens have got to be more physical and we have to hold them and stay into them."