Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/02/2006 03:02:00 AM
The New Tradition At UCLA: Defense
Alfred Aboya and the Bruins' D held LSU to its lowest scoring total of the 2005-06 season: Just 45 points.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
INDIANAPOLIS -- UCLA finds beauty in ugliness. It derives joy from winning a 59-45 Final Four game that drove half the crowd out of the RCA Dome before the buzzer. It gets pleasure from seeing the total frustration in the faces of LSU's players, who were held to 32 percent shooting and a season-low in points. And the Bruins now find themselves on the brink of winning a national championship almost solely on the strength of the nastiest defense in all of college basketball.
"We are not 'Showtime,'" said UCLA senior guard Cedric Bozeman. "That's not our style. Our staple has been defense all year. That's what we focus on, and that's what we pride ourselves on. It may be ugly, but a win is a win."
If the past two weeks of this wild NCAA tournament have taught us anything, it's that the nation's most stifling defenders weren't from Lawrence, Kan., or Austin, Texas, or Memphis, Tenn., or Iowa City -- they were from the West Coast, in Westwood, studying at the Ben Howland School Of D. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a representative of the older, flashier UCLA that won 10 national titles under the legendary John Wooden, may have been looking on from the stands in Indy, but Bozeman said of the 2005-06 Bruins, "we take the image of our coach. [Howland] is very tenacious, and we try to carry that on the court." Last Saturday's victim of that tenaciousness was high-flying Memphis, which was suffocated to 45 points, 36 below its average. This Saturday's was LSU, which spent 40 Slow Minutes In Hell, because, as Howland said, "Our intensity defensively ... was really, really incredible."
The Tigers beat Duke and Texas -- no defensive slouches -- in the Atlanta Regional, and were already quite skilled in the art of winning ugly. But they had never seen anything like what UCLA threw at them on Saturday night. Howland's quickly rotating, double-teaming man-to-man that made LSU feel as if it was playing five-on-seven at times. Big Baby (Glen Davis, with just 14 points), Big Hops (Tyrus Thomas, with just five points in 17 minutes) and the Tigers were turned into one Big Discombobulated Mess, falling behind 20-8 early in the first half, and 39-24 at halftime after shooting 9-of-30 and watching their traditional game plan -- work the ball inside-out with easy post feeds -- get torn to shreds. An agitated LSU fan stood up near press row early in the game, his face beet red from watching the Bruins' handiwork, and yelled, "Can we play some basketball, Tigers? What's going on?"
"That's just the way we come out and play defense," said UCLA point guard Jordan Farmar, who aided the perimeter lockdown effort that kept LSU's guards from effectively feeding its star big men. "They don't do the things they normally do. They're looking at each other, pointing fingers. Sometimes their eyes get real big, like a deer in the headlights, like they don't know what hit 'em."
If you saw the game's first eight and a half minutes that led to the 20-8 deficit, you know that Farmar wasn't embellishing. Davis was held scoreless, denied the ball by UCLA freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and doubled by Ryan Hollins. LSU went 4-of-14 from the field and committed three turnovers -- and only got three shot attempts for the duo of Davis and Thomas. "They came out and they just punched us," Davis said. "We didn't recover from it."
UCLA relentlessly pressured the Tigers and watched its lead grow to as many as 24 in the second half, but the contest was decided by the Bruins' initial blows. LSU coach John Brady opened his press conference remarks by saying, "I thought the first 10 or 12 minutes of the game, UCLA was able to get us back on our heels. We really weren't able to ... make up the deficit that we created for ourselves -- or they created for us." The big boys from the SEC, who had powered their own, magical Final Four run by defense, simply didn't expect to be subjected to that degree of harrassment from the Pac-10. Davis even admitted that LSU was "kind of shocked."
After what it did against Memphis in the Oakland Regional Final, UCLA wasn't remotely shocked by what happened today. In fact, ever since the Bruins' 71-68 loss at USC on Feb. 19 -- a game in which they let their crosstown rival shoot 56.3 percent from the field -- they have been following Howland's master plan: To take every opponent out of its offensive scheme, and win no matter how unattractive the process may be. UCLA has gone 12-0 since that loss, and not a single opponent has shot over 50 percent against the Bruins again. Five squads, including LSU, have been held below 40 percent during the win streak.
"We were definitely embarrassed after the SC game," said Bozeman. "They beat us off the dribble, and they pretty much did everything they wanted. From that day on, we've sunk in and played tough defense."
Howland told his team after that loss that they had all the pieces to win a national championship -- if they committed themselves to his brand of D. It was a statement that, no doubt, has been said to hundreds of teams, by hundreds of coaches over the years. But for these bothersome, ball-hawking Bruins, it's now 40 minutes away from being prophetic.
Will people please stop calling the way UCLA plays boring or ugly? Watching the speedy, athletic UCLA players play great defense and transition baskteball is a beautiful thing to behold. Let's face it any team can score points, but there are very few teams who play balanced basketball like UCLA.
Although UCLA put up a modest 59 points on Saturday, they could have, if they really cared about what other' thought, put up another 15-20 points to silence their critics. But, to these new Bruins, a win's a win. So, since they go off to a hot start offensively they opted to rest their stars early and let their bench get some action (and boy did they play great too).
I don't think anyone would have predicted such a dominating performance by UCLA, which shut-down LSU's Davis among the many. But, after watching UCLA win all season long I am a firm believer that UCLA can play with anyone in the country, and most likely make them shoot below 40 percent. They could definately win it all, again...
low scoring, boring. High scoring, not enough defense. It's all about the W. No matter what. Afterall, this is a team game, and its demands DEFENSE first. So sad about all yall media hype about LSU and give no credit to UCLA. Any of you media would have the gut to say "my bad?"
Being a 57 year old retired Full time student at LSU, I am still brooding....but, If I may offer this, Its great to enjoy the moment but to get caught up in the hoopla only blows focus, big celebrations are in order, after you win...unfortunately after a hard fought war to get to Indy we showed our youth and got taken to school...God Bless our young men...Its a long way back the Baton Rouge after a great season...If we can replace all that enthusiasum with maturity, resolve, real seriousness and some outside shooting...we will be back next year with a different result. Geaux Tigers.
Notice that the perennially east-leaning committee put the two best west coast teams (UCLA and Gonzaga) in the same bracket? That makes it easier to claim the east is dominant -- unless of course the west coasters beat them all anyway.
This is a Bruin from the Wooden years, who had to manage several different teams but one thing was remarkable...it was their consistency through discipline. And that was they believed in the idea (game plan) and the leadership (coach), and was smart enough to adapt during the game. Remember the times when Wooden's team would run you off the court, or play a tempo game. The goal was to win in clever ways, but win nonetheless. Go Bruins.
You're giving a lot of credit to UCLA's defense, but UCLA can't defend free throws (which the Tigers shot atrociously), and they can't say that their defense was responsible for Big Baby's missed lay-ups (which he had over half a dozen of). If LSU makes those free throws and some of those short shots that just wouldn't fall, does it make a difference in the outcome of the game? Probably not. But LSU's bad performance had just as much if not more to do with their loss as UCLA's good one.
To the person that said that LSU just didn't play as well as they did against Texas and Duke, you are correct. However, it was because of the Bruin defense. Watch the game again and you will notice that the only "clean" shots the Tigers had were three-pointers...by design since they are a horrific three-point shooting team. Frankly, UCLA would have taken down both Duke and Texas, two overrated teams...particularly Texas. UCLA will do the same thing to Florida on Monday night. About Farmar hitting some lucky shots: there was nothing lucky about draining open three-point shots. He has been doing that all season. I guess an LSU fan would call them lucky shots because anytime a Tiger sinks a three-pointer, it is a lucky shot. Mitchell's three against Texas A&M was a lucky shot. Farmar's three threes agains LSU were not. UCLA is not only on the verge of winning the national title, but if they win they ought to be awarded the SEC title as well, since they will have beaten three SEC teams along the way.
Unbelieveable... Glen Davis huffed and he puffed and then he called time out 'cause he needed a breather! I've been watching these boys from Westwood play close games all season long--they're always there and except for Washington, no one has had their number, when that last TV time out rolls around they're poised to do what it takes, lucky? Yes, (ask the Zags) but they create their own luck through hard nosed defense, excellent conditioning, and consumate team play...Mbah a Moute, you're my HERO! ---Still, Florida is a much better 3-point shooting team (when Humpty is on) then LSU and Noah is amazing, they won't be as easily stymied...looking forward to a great game Monday night!
UCLA's defense has stopped some of college basketball's greatest players in Morrison (Zags), Powe (Cal), Roy (Huskies), Carney (Memphis), and Davis (LSU) to name a few... I don't think the game against Florida will be any different, UCLA will shut down their main stars and prevail to win their 12th national title.
First, how does anyone watch the game I saw last night and claim UCLA is "not really better than LSU"? I guess they do it through purple and gold glasses, because UCLA outclassed LSU in every possible way. On the topic of "ugly" basketball, I'm not sure I agree that UCLA plays ugly. I remember the same things being said about the Detroit Pistons a couple of years back. I loved the way they played. I also like to watch UCLA play, as long as they aren't playing Arizona. They proved they can score in bunches, too, via the runs they put up against LSU. The slow down tactic towards the end is all that kept them from scoring in the 70s. They didn't put up the high score because it wasn't necessary. I really enjoyed watching their offense...and their defense. And Monday night, the Bruins will bring a championship back to the PAC-10.
I'm an LSU and Washington Husky fan . . . but I think the UCLA fans are (mostly) right on this one.
LSU was outplayed, period. The coach called a brilliant defensive game. Reminded me of "changing lines" in college hockey. Everyone he put in contributed, and more importantly he wore LSU down. I was amazed to see Davis even unable to make it inside on offense . . NOT because of a Temple-like defense against the likes of JJ Redick or even because of the double-teams thrown at him. It was because the defense wore him down. Brilliant game.
We got our butts kicked and, as another LSU fan indicated "were taken to school."
UCLA was the better team.
That said, I'm not so sure about "East Coast bias" against the PAC-10 or UCLA superiority in the final. You are no longer underrated or without attention. Luke and others are picking you to win now.
Frankly, I don't think you will win Monday. That's just MY bias, coming from someone who watched one of my teams (Washington) beat you twice and the other of my teams (LSU) lose to Florida twice.
You have to go back to the 60s to remember when Wooden put together the kind of team that is winning here. It was the days of fast breaks and trap defenses, and what SI called "the two minute explosion." It was the days when John Slaughter plugged up the middle, and Gail Goodrich hit from outside (before the 3 point shot).
What got me about the game was that it was one of the forms that UCLA BB has taken. They exhausted Big Baby on the fast break, doubled him with big guys, blocked out the secondary, and ran at the outside shooters. Then, with the lead, they walked the ball up the court, went deep into the 35 second clock (the best defense), and used a "prevent defense" when LSU had the ball. They got so frustrated they couldn't even score on layups because they were hurrying their shots like 10 year olds playing on cracked concrete courts.
I don't know whether they can win against Florida, but where they came from makes me hope.
Washington fans are sure proud of beating the Bruins. They never mention how the Huskies lost to Washington State twice. Funny how that works. Does it make Wazzu better than Washington? No, just like the wins over UCLA don't make Washington the better team. Since the Bruins aren't playing any of them, though, it doesn't matter. What matters is how they match up against Florida. I wouldn't bet against them.