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Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Bruins need to make effort to improve

By Peter Yoon

LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA basketball team is learning about giving the old college try.

There hasn't been enough of that so far this season as the Bruins seemed to be skating through games hoping they will win based on the championship banners hanging in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion and a freshman class ranked the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

Tradition and talent are a great mix, but the Bruins are finding out quickly that those things don't amount to much without consistent effort.

They learned that the hard way Sunday night when unheralded Cal Poly San Luis Obispo came into Pauley Pavilion and erased an 18-point, second-half deficit on the way to a 70-68 victory over then-No. 11 UCLA.

Chalk it up as a learning experience that the Bruins hope will not be repeated when a dangerous Cal State Northridge squad visits Pauley on Wednesday night.

"I feel like we thought (winning) was just going to happen," guard Norman Powell said. "We thought we had the No. 1 recruiting class, we got the returners, the hype. Now we know it's not going to be 'Oh, this is UCLA so we're going to get the W.' It's going to be 'This is UCLA so we need to come out and play the way UCLA needs to play.' "

The way UCLA needs to play is with more focus and intensity. The Bruins have looked mostly flat in the early going, barely squeaking by UC Irvine in overtime, needing a second-half rally to beat Georgia and dropping a game against Georgetown.

The loss to Cal Poly, however, shocked the team and its fans, and now the Bruins can only hope it serves as a wakeup call.

"We need to come out with intensity and play basketball and not let teams hang around," Powell said. "We need to come out and play hard throughout the game and not just the second half. It's not a switch we can turn on and off when we want to play good and when we want to just cruise."

The team’s chemistry, especially on defense, has looked off. Players seem uncertain on switches and when they are supposed to help. Opponents have used pick and rolls over and over to penetrate UCLA's man-to-man.

Part of it is integrating four freshmen in to the rotation. Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker have plenty of talent, but have not yet adjusted to the college game.

"We're depending on freshmen in a big way right now," coach Ben Howland said. "They're very good basketball players and their learning curve will be faster than most because of their talent level, but it's still a learning curve for freshmen adjusting from high school to the college game, no question."

Muhammad, one of the top prospects in the nation, had to sit out the first three games because of an NCAA investigation and has played in only three games so far. He's still working his way back into game shape and said playing Division I basketball has been a bigger adjustment than he anticipated.

"It's a different game," Muhammad said. "College guys are just as quick as you and just as strong as you so you have to do little things and that's what we're not doing as a team. That's why we found ourselves losing that game that we shouldn't have lost."

Losing isn't something that comes naturally to these freshmen. Anderson's team was 65-0 over the last two seasons of high school. Adams' team went 44-0 last season. Parker's teams won four state titles in high school and Muhammad's won three.

"It's different for us," Adams said. "It's tough losing but there's no sense of panic. We're still trying to find our chemistry and camaraderie on the court. We just have to play hard for the whole 40 minutes. That's a big key. Take no plays off and take no opponent lightly."

And that entails getting back to playing hard and playing together.
During a three-game exhibition trip to China in August, Howland raved about his team's lack of selfishness and how everyone was willing to make the extra pass.

So far, that team has shown up only sporadically and the Bruins have suffered as a result.

"We might be playing a little more selfishly now," guard Larry Drew II said. "We still have it in us to make the extra pass and making sure we're doing whatever it takes for our teammates instead of for ourselves. I don't really think it's a chemistry issue. I just think we kind of got away from a certain way that we were playing before for whatever reason."

The key to turning it around, Anderson said, is embracing the idea of going all out, especially on the defensive end.

"I think a lot of it is effort," he said. "I think it's encouragement from the bench and I think if we learn to like to stop other people from scoring, then it will become more fun, then everyone will want to do it and it will become more exciting."

Those words are music to Howland's ears. Howland, a notorious stickler for defensive intensity, said most of the team's problems so far stem from a lack of effort on that end of the court. He said he would employ a zone defense more often to make better use of the team personnel, but Powell reiterated that is still comes down to effort.

"If we play zone, the effort is needed too," Powell said. "You need to locate shooters and know where they're at on the floor. It's all out effort on the team so it doesn't matter what we play on defense it's just that we have to play with a consistent high level of intensity."

You know, the old college try.