Having lost our first two games, we were sure to win this one. Plus, I figured with the bashing we took in football, it would be an extraordinarily convenient (sparse) night at the Sports Arena for the family.
After a 1-2 record in Maui, the question for me coming into the Pepperdine game was how committed Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith really were. Jay Bilas had killed them in his analysis - questioning whether they truly cared and whether they would buy in to Howland's team. He thought Josh Smith took a step backwards in terms of conditioning and desire. As for Reeves, he had gone as far as stating that Howland should remove him from the team until his attitude improved. It was indeed disheartening to hear about Reeves' missed flight (regardless of the reported alarm clock / power outage) and it did seem that he was still off-kilter in his mood, especially in the waning moments of the failed comeback vs Kansas.
This is a big problem for us. Josh Smith was supposed to be the player with the most pro potential and the breakout force inside this year. Reeves is essentially our best player - leading rebounder and scorer - with the energy and physicality to lead our team. Regardless of who we'd play at the 3, we would still have the best frontcourt in the conference. These are the 2 guys who have attitude problems? Reeves is out here launching 3s and auditioning to be an NBA small forward. Josh has shown a lack of discipline on and off the court - (and he needs to understand the importance of not reaching down all the time on defense. Arms straight up please!) ugh.
Last night, in a 62-39 thrashing of Pepperdine, Bruin fans caught a glimpse of what we'd look like without Josh or Reeves since they played about 11 minutes, each being in foul trouble. However, the Wear twins, along with our starting guards- Jerime, Tyler and Lazeric (the 3 players that Bilas' especially mentioned who really seem to care) put on a defensive performance that we've come to expect from a Howland side.
As atrocious as our offense and defense were vs LMU and MTSU, I knew that Howland would eventually fix the defense. Playing good D is ultimately a matter of effort and heart. Last night we caught a glimpse of that. However, offensively we were going to need much better shooting nights from our guards.
Lazeric Jones shot 2 for 3 on three-pointers last night and 4-8 from the field. There was never any doubting his desire - if anything, he has been pressing too hard, so it was good to see him find some success. In fact, he was our leading scorer at 14 points and also set the tone of the game with a few early steals, ending with 6.
Norman Powell has been a big unexpected contributor this season. Perhaps too young to be encumbered by the immense pressure of filling the Lee/Honeycutt void, he has been unafraid to shoot and play aggressively. I initially thought that he was too raw for significant minutes, but his athleticism is giving us an important boost off the bench. Powell was 2 for 4 from downtown last night as well.
The Wear twins finally performed the way the hype machine said they would. Collectively, they scored 18 points, grabbed 17 boards, blocked 5 shots, and lost 2 teeth (Travis). They really only played about 24 minutes each. This is what I'd like to see from them every game (minus the teeth part).
I wonder how a 10 man rotation will look when Parker comes back from his concussion. But all in all, it was the best performance from our squad this year. Hopefully, the worst is past us. Hopefully Reeves gets his mental act together.
After that shameful 50-0 drubbing, Neuheisal had to be fired. As TJ Simers continues to note, Neuheisal has handled his tenure and now his firing with class. But, it is beyond me as to how he didn't work out. He and Norm Chow should have easily recruited a bonafide QB to UCLA. In 3 years, real progress should have been obvious. There is no way a school like UCLA should be running the pistol. So where do we go from here? The few comments that I've read since are encouraging.
"Multiple sources close to the program have said that the school is ready to make a financial commitment to football..."
"UCLA prepared to pay a head football coach a top-ten competitive salary, and offer a very attractive complete package that includes paying his assistants good salaries..."
From AD Dan Guerrero:
"Football is the primary sport here from an economic standpoint; we all understand that,'' he said. "Our commitment to football is solid.''
I'll believe it when I see it, but if UCLA is really ready to make a true commitment to football (in terms of coaching salaries, facilities upgrades, etc), maybe we fans can truly care again. But that commitment is more important than who we actually hire. Neuheisal should have fielded a better team by his 4th year, but there was no way he could compete nationally year after year with his current resources.