UCLA's defense a dead zone

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.