With the departure of junior center Joshua Smith, UCLA is down to eight scholarship players. But the news of Smith deciding to leave the program came too late for the people in charge of selecting a cover photo for the game program for Wednesday’s game against Cal State Northridge.
Smith graced the cover of the game program but it didn’t have an adverse impact on the Bruins, who whipped the Matadors 82-56.
Since the programs are no doubt printed a few weeks in advance, there’s always a good chance the player gracing the cover is no longer a current member of the team.
According to Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports Smith’s departure is the 11th since the last of UCLA’s three consecutive trips to the Final Four in 2008. To say the least these haven’t been the most stable of times for Ben Howland and his program.
But with Smith gone the Bruins had to make the move that many have been clamoring for: going small and even playing some zone. Howland did both on Wednesday night, as Jordan Adams moved into the starting lineup and the Bruins began the game in a 2-3 zone.
They also played faster, as their 77 possessions was UCLA’s second-highest total (83 in their 80-79 overtime win over UC Irvine) of the season to date. UCLA did turn the ball over 16 times against the Matadors, breaking even in turnover margin, but they also shot 53.1% from the field and 26 of their 34 field goals were assisted.
Norman Powell scored 17 points off the bench to lead the way for UCLA, but the question as to whether or not they have enough interior depth to contend in the Pac-12 remains. To be fair freshman power forward Tony Parker is still dealing with an ankle injury and played just one minute last night and wore a protective boot while on the bench (why he even played that minute is a valid question given this fact).
Once Parker’s back to full strength UCLA will be able to go with an eight-man rotation, which should help them down the road against Pac-12 heavyweights such as Arizona, Colorado and California. Whether or not the Bruins actually contend will depend on how well the players adjust to their new style, as well as whether or not Howland sticks with it.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.