UCLA: Eric Boateng

UCLA's defense a dead zone

March, 8, 2010
3/08/10
7:16
AM PT
Coach Ben Howland never wanted to turn his back on the man-to-man defense Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Arron Afflalo and Russell Westbrook helped him cultivate.

He did earlier this season, mostly out of necessity (see: UCLA's lack of athleticism).

He did it again Saturday with the Bruins trailing by just five early in the second half of an eventual 56-46 loss to Arizona State at Wells Fargo Arena.

"I went back to the zone, stupidly," Howland said.

The Sun Devils were glad he did. ASU's Jamelle McMillan nailed a 3-pointer thanks to Ty Abbott's ability to infiltrate the zone. Less than two minutes later, Abbott did it again, this time finding Eric Boateng inside for an easy layup.

Just like that, the Sun Devils' lead was back to double digits.

"We just couldn't make stops," Tyler Honeycutt said.

And that's why no matter how UCLA does in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament at Staples Center this week, Howland intends to return to a man-t0-man scheme next season. Perhaps Howland will be able to stick with it.

There are some promising signs. First, UCLA should be more athletic -- at least defensively -- with the graduation of Nikola Dragovic, as well as the continued progression of post players Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson and Brendan Lane. Honeycutt's versatility and Malcolm Lee's cover skills should be assets for defenses of the future.

But for now, the 2-3 zone that earlier in the season allowed Howland to compensate for a lack of athleticism is simply not working.

"It's being torn apart by good teams," Howland said.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- UCLA's enigmatic season continues, though the results remain consistent.

The Bruins built a 14-point lead Thursday, only to lose to Arizona. They tried a different approach Saturday afternoon against Arizona State, digging themselves a 13-0 hole before fans could take their seats at Wells Fargo Arena. UCLA went on to lose, 56-46, by converting a season-low 17 field goals.

"The biggest problem we had was scoring," said coach Ben Howland, who for the same straight game, looked exhausted and chose to sit while reporters asked questions.

By the time Tyler Honeycutt scored UCLA's first basket, nearly five minutes had passed, Howland had used two timeouts, the Bruins trailed by double digits and officials from CBS -- which televised the game nationally -- probably kicked themselves for choosing a yawner a week before Selection Sunday.

Somehow, UCLA managed to cut the deficit to five with more than 16 minutes left in the second half. Arizona State's lead was back up to double digits following a Jamelle McMillan 3-pointer and layup by Eric Boateng.

"The guys were really focused and ready to play," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "Our guys understood we had to be at our best defensively."

Boateng did whatever he wanted, recording game highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds against the much-smaller Brendan Lane.

But the story was on the other end of the court. The Sun Devils played a stubborn version of Sendek's zone defense, holding the Bruins to a season-low 32.7 shooting percent. Nikola Dragovic and Malcolm Lee each had 15 points, but UCLA hurt itself by missing 16 of its 20 3-point shots.

Michael Roll led the team in postgame headshakes after missing all but one of his nine attempts.

"I just couldn't buy a bucket," Roll said. "It felt like they were all good. ... I don't really know what happened."

You're not alone, Mike. The enigma continues, but the results remain the same.

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