Already lacking front court depth, UCLA being without the services of forward Travis Wear for their game at cross-city rival USC seemed to give the Trojans a shot at sweeping the season series for the second time in the last four seasons.
However the Bruins (20-7, 10-4) left little doubt on Sunday afternoon, beating the Trojans 75-59 at the Galen Center to keep pace in the loss column with Oregon and No. 12 Arizona (both 11-4) atop the Pac-12 standings.
All five starters reached double figures with Jordan Adams’ 20 points leading the way, and the Bruins assisted on 18 of their 25 field goals. Ben Howland’s team took quality shots for most of the afternoon, something that was an issue in their 75-71 overtime loss to the Trojans on January 30 at Pauley Pavilion.
In regards to UCLA’s prospects down the line a key development was the play of David Wear. Wear, who has struggled for much of the season, produced his first double-double since the season opener with ten points and 11 rebounds. With Travis out of the lineup UCLA needed David to raise his level of play and he did just that.
USC did out-rebound UCLA 42-37, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and scoring 21 second-chance points, but thanks to the play of Wear and Kyle Anderson (11 points, nine rebounds) up front the Bruins weren’t in a great deal of trouble at any point. Tony Parker even gave UCLA some quality minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds in 17 minutes of action.
Are there areas in which UCLA needs to improve if they’re to have a productive March? Certainly, especially when considering the USC’s work on the offensive glass and the fact that the Bruins entered the game dead last in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding percentage (67.2%).
But David Wear being more productive (and confident) needs to happen if the Bruins are to win the program’s first Pac-12 regular season title since 2008.
If David can build on Sunday’s outing, the Bruins will end up gaining something of value from Travis Wear’s absence.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.