UCLA basketball report: Bruins lost focus

TEMPE, Ariz. -- UCLA will face Arizona State in a Pac-10 game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time, but on Friday, Bruins coach Ben Howland's mind was still wandering back to Thursday's loss at Arizona.

The loss to the Wildcats cost UCLA a chance to take sole possession of second place in the conference and Howland said he didn't think the team handled the magnitude of the big road game very well.

"You could see that some of the players were affected by the crowd," Howland said. "And it happened to more than one of our players, which is unfortunate at this point in the season. You’d think we’d be over that by now because it happens wherever you. That wasn’t good."

Of particular concern was when Lazeric Jones lost his composure and threw an elbow at Arizona guard Kyle Fogg out of frustration after getting called for a foul in the second half. Jones, a team captain, received a technical foul that gave Arizona momentum UCLA couldn't overcome.

"I told him last night, there is a lot of responsibility heaped on your shoulders," Howland said. "You are a first-year Division I player playing here at a high level and I’m asking you to be a leader and be mature out there. I understand it’s a big responsibility, but we need him to do that."

Another incident that concerned Howland occurred after Reeves Nelson fouled out. The Arizona fans, as UCLA fans do when opposing players foul out, chanted "right, left, right, left...sit down," as Nelson walked toward the bench.

But Nelson played to the crowd, sitting, then standing, then sitting, all while UCLA was getting blown out by double digits.

"It’s like, come on," Howland said. "We’re losing. Just sit down and don’t react to the crowd. He shouldn’t be interacting with the other team’s crowd. That’s really immature."

Center Joshua Smith acknowledged the Bruins let their focus slip during the game.

“We let little things get in our head," he said. "Let the crowd get in our head, let the refs get in our head. We didn't play the right way."


Howland said he was also perturbed by the team's defensive performance. Arizona shot 52 percent for the game and 60 percent in the second half, often blowing past UCLA defenders for easy baskets.

"We made some big defensive mistakes," Howland said. "Just breakdowns where we’re not trailing the shooters. ... We had a lot of breakdowns defensively. In both halves they shot a high percentage."

UCLA had played pretty good defense over the last two weeks, so the defensive stinker caught Howland off guard. Part of the reason, Howland surmised, was that the team -- other than Nelson -- was having a poor shooting night.

"I think sometimes when players are worrying about missing shots or whatever, it affects the other end of the floor when it shouldn’t," Howland said.


Arizona State is 1-7 in Pac-10 play and has lost seven of their last nine games, but Howland warned the Sun Devils are still a dangerous team.

They had close losses against California (65-61) and USC (63-61) and were close late in games they lost to Washington (88-75) and Arizona (80-69).

"Believe me, they are very capable of beating us tomorrow and that will be very clear to our guys," Howland said. "Their record is not indicative of how close some of these games have been."


After facing almost exclusively man-to-man defense against Arizona, UCLA will see another zone defense against Arizona State.

The Bruins have improved their play against zone defenses as the season has progressed, but the Sun Devils' zone concerns Howland.

"This is as good a zone as we’ll see," Howland said. "They do a great job in the zone because they’ve been committed to it from day one."


Arizona State has taken 440 three-point shots, second to Washington's 444 among Pac-10 teams. That comes out to 41 percent of the total shots the team has taken. Comparatively, UCLA takes only 29 percent of its shots from beyond the arc.

That means the Bruins will have to mind their perimeter defense, especially on leading scorer Ty Abbott, who shoots 41 percent on three-pointers and Rihards Kuksiks, who also shoots 41 percent.

Kuksiks, a 6-6 forward who plays inside and out, presents a particular matchup problem for the Bruins. Howland said Nelson would start out on him, but Nelson hasn't exactly been a stellar perimeter defender this season.

"He's a matchup nightmare," Howland said. "[Nelson] has seen some guys like this, guys who play more like a three, but he is probably the ultimate one. He’s more of a three man than a four man in terms of offensively. The matchup for him in particular is really difficult."