Interestingly, the consistent strength of the UCLA squads of the past decade or so was the greatest weakness last night: PG. We went from Baron Davis, Earl Watson, Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook (notice I didn't include Jrue Holiday) to now Mustafa Abdul-Hamid? I don't think so.
Mustafa could not even bring up the ball comfortably much less run the offense. They harassed him into turnovers in the backcourt. He would dribble into corners or sidelines and no one on the offense would show for the ball to get him out of trouble. Even some of his passes were embarrassingly thrown way off the mark and out of bounds. Now I know that for a 4th year walk-on, he's doing the best that he can. I partly blame Howland for allowing him to play 36 minutes when he was completely inept and unqualified. But mostly I blame Jrue Holiday. Fortunately, Jerime Anderson will be the primary ball-handler for this season. He might have to play 35 minutes a game. Hopefully, Howland will allow Malcolm Lee to be the PG (when Anderson sits) just as he did in high school.
So we were down by 3 at the half and down by 8 with around 8 minutes to play. When Malcolm fouled out with 5 min to go (his 4th foul was a completely bogus charging call. Hey ref, its not charging if he doesn't even make contact with the defender's torso) after his 2 big shots had just tied the game, I thought it was over. Mustafa was going to lose the game for us. I couldn't contain my laughter when he hit the game winning 3 pointer with 15 seconds left. Since I had been besmirching his game all night long, my friend started yelling, "Apologize! Apologize to him right now!". Hilarious.
After seeing the team live for the first time, my first thought is that Michael Roll will be very very important to our team this year. I think he would have been a stabilizing force in the midst of all that confusion on offense. Plus, he would've hit a few 3s that we badly needed. Secondly, we are only 3 guards deep so all three must stay healthy. We now know that we could lose to a NAIA squad if 2 of our 3 guards are out.
Thirdly, Honeycutt has the tools to be a great player. He probably lacks confidence right now but one play in particular showed his ability. He drove baseline with a quickness missing from most of our other players and setup Drew Gordon for an easy dunk. The fact that Honeycutt started and played over 20 minutes is a sign that Howland likes him. Mike Moser looks to be in line for about 5-7 minutes a game this year.
Reeves Nelson, though he missed all 4 FTs after effortlessly swishing them in warmups, looks like a capable contributor as well. I thought he did some positive things on the offensive end and is the perfect hustle guy for a Howland squad. He may not get a lot of minutes this year with Keefe, Gordon and Drago clogging the PF minutes, but he'll make his mark, I guarantee it. Conversely, the only good thing Bobo showed was that he had slimmed down. I still have my doubts about his approach to the game. You can lose weight just through mindless cardio exercises but you can't get better at bball without mental concentration and determination. Still, he brings potential offensive post skills that nobody else has including his towering hook shot.
The bright spots I thought were Drew Gordon, our leading scorer with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and James Keefe, to my surprise. Keefe put in a noticeably solid performance on offense and showed me that he may understand the importance of his role this year. He even nailed a couple 3s from the wings.
As for our other likely starters, Malcolm Lee looked over-anxious to get started and needs to just settle down. It seems like he was excited to show off everything he worked so hard on offseason. He did hit a couple big shots late in the game before fouling out. However, I was discouraged to discover during pre-game warmups, he never extended his shooting arm fully in his shooting motion. How could he shoot 500 shots a game all summer and not have been tutored to shoot them correctly?
Dragovic was pathetic as usual on defense, often refusing to hustle to cover open shooters. He also shot very poorly on the night but perhaps we can chalk up his performance to his food poisoning. If it were up to me, I wouldn't even play Drago. He doesn't play Ben ball.
Overall, our offensive spacing and cohesion was terrible so there's a lot of work to be done. This will be an interesting teaching year for Howland. I look forward to seeing our growth game by game.
This is how I think our minutes should be dispersed:
Anderson 30 min at PG
Lee 30 (20 at SG, 10 at PG)
Roll 30 (10 at SF, 20 at SG)
Keefe 25 (20 at PF, 5 at C)
Gordon 30 at C
Dragovic 22 (15 at PF, 7 at SF)
Honeycutt 18 at SF
Morgan 5 at C
Nelson 5 at PF
Moser 5 at SF