UCLA vs. Texas: A Running Diary

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19:28    The Horns actually move the ball, and Holmes gets inside for the game’s first two points. This breaks Texas’ three game streak of turning the ball over on their first possession.

18:20    After Ridley blocks a shot on the defensive end, UCLA goes to a zone. Despite their inability to shoot from deep, Dickie V points out that this could actually help Texas, as they don’t respond well to man-to-man pressure.

17:55    With Felix getting fouled, that’s three consecutive possessions in which the Horns have not turned it over, and three consecutive possessions in which they’ve gotten the ball below the free throw line. That’s one of the things I look for with my untrained eyes—do they get the ball below the free throw line? Good things tend to happen when they do.

16:19    Shabazz Muhammud scores for the first time, but he’s made his presence felt throughout. It’s impossible to look at the screen and not see his highlighter yellow shoe-sock combo, even when he’s not involved in the play. UCLA leads 9-7.

15:22    Ridley gets free for his second dunk in as many possessions, which is always an adventure. He just never seems to throw it through cleanly. Vitale is proving prophetic, though, as Texas has not turned the ball over and has gotten as many good looks as they have all year. The game is tied 11-11 as we’re about to hit the “under 15” timeout.

14:33    In football, the old saying goes that you want every possession to end in some sort of kick. Same thing in basketball—have every possession end in a shot. McClellan misses his third three point attempt, but it was a good look. I’ll take it.

12:28    We have our first Pappy sighting. When I look at this Texas team, I see a bunch of complementary players, and I wonder who could potentially develop into the best or second-best player on a title contender. Ioannis Papapetrou (along with Sheldon McClellan and Cameron Ridley) is my hope to fill one of those roles.

11:20    It’s 17-13 UCLA. As they come back from commercial, ESPN recaps the historical UCLA vs. University of Houston “Game of the Century” that was played in the Astrodome in 1968. Not surprisingly, this leads Dickie V to start railing about how Guy V. Lewis, UH’s head coach at the time, is not in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to Lewis without them also mentioning a)that he’s not in the Hall of Fame, and b)his middle initial of “V.”

10:51    On an uncontested breakaway, Demarcus Holland can’t decide whether to lay the ball in or dunk it, so he does neither. With Texas’ constant struggle to score, what are the odds that those two points come back to haunt them?

10:39    Dickie V comments on the overall lack of attendance at the game, pointing out how when the home team struggles (in this case, Texas), fans just don’t show up. Reliant didn’t even bother to put up those big curtains at each end that are custom whenever a basketball game is held in a football stadium…they just let people sit wherever they wanted. In hindsight, they probably could’ve held the game at Bellaire High School. Would’ve been a nice homecoming for Sheldon McClellan.

8:39    Ridley with a clean dunk off a nice feed from Juice Lewis. Texas pulls within one at 18-17. I can’t put my finger on it, but I love Lewis’ nickname “Juice” for some reason. A quick internet search to find its origin was unsuccessful. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wasn’t one of Google’s recommended searches. Let’s hope that changes some day soon.

6:22    I have a headache from the last 45 seconds, in which ESPN broadcasted from some strange court-level camera that violently followed each pass. Why do networks insist on straying from the standard side-court camera shot? It’s great they can operate cameras from gravity-defying angles, but seeing the shot clock’s viewpoint on a free throw adds absolutely no value to my viewing experience.

5:46    Texas has had approximately 342 perimeter player-to-perimeter player passes intercepted this year, and it almost happens again, as Demarcus Holland attempts to make what’s supposed to be a safe pass to freshman Connor Lammert (who is sporting some fantastic knee sleeves). Holland ends up getting it back, gets fouled, and gets to the line. It’s clear that ESPN had to dig a little to figure out what stats to show for Holland, as they include “Minutes Per Game,” and even that’s only 16. Holland hits one of two, cutting UCLA’s lead to 22-20.

4:05    UCLA gets its second consecutive layup, this time in transition, and pushes the lead to 30-23. That’s a 6-0 run by the Bruins. You can play well for most of a game, but if you’re on the wrong side of those little stretches and exchanges—a five point swing here, a 6-0 run there—you’re probably going to get beat. The Horns haven’t been that bad today, and yet they’re still down seven.

2:18    McClellan, who’s had good looks throughout, finally gets on the board with two free throws, pulling Texas within 30-27. A typically streaky shooter, you have to hope he’s nearing the end of today’s bad stretch.

:31    With just a two second differential between the shot and game clock, and Rick Barnes screaming to hold for one shot, Felix pushes the ball and gets Pappy a layup, which he misses. If you’re going to push in that situation, you better finish. I can feel a Bruins’ three coming.

:00    Luckily, my instincts are almost always wrong, and UCLA turns it over. Felix ends up getting a half-decent look at the buzzer, but it comes up short. Despite getting outrebounded and shooting only 36% from the floor, Texas trails just 32-30. For UCLA, Muhammud’s shoes have been louder than his game, as Kyle Anderson, one of their other top freshman, leads the way for the Bruins with nine points.

HALFTIME    Because I’ve been keeping notes throughout, I’ve had to occasionally pause the telecast, meaning I can mercifully fast forward through ESPN’s Johnny Manziel Heisman love-fest. Not looking forward to him accepting the award later tonight.


19:28    Well, we didn’t get it at the start of the game, but we got it coming out of the break—a first possession turnover for Texas. First, Jonathan Holmes almost fell out of bounds; then Sheldon McClellan actually did.

19:04    After McClellan completes a four-point play to give Texas a 34-32 lead, UCLA comes right back down, where Ridley attempts to take a charge and forces a missed layup. It worked this time, but this is a pet peeve of mine—big men taking charges. I realize they’re coached to do this, but it drives me nuts, especially because, right or wrong, they’re never going to get that call. Just stand in there, go straight up, and play good defense.

18:47    While trying to get it inside, Javan Felix turns the ball over, Texas’ second in their first three possessions of the second half. After a clean first 20 minutes, the Horns seem to be reverting quickly.

17:40    UCLA appears to be making a concerted effort to push the ball, and Larry Drew II exposes Texas’ lazy transition defense for a layup to tie the game at 36.

15:29    After a crazy scramble, Julien Lewis ends up with another uncontested breakaway, and like Demarcus Holland before him, he misses, too. Julien, missed finger rolls are the surest way for people to stop calling you Juice. And for the record, Texas has had a two-on-none fast break and a one-on-none fast break, and they didn’t score a point on either.

15:20    Well, that was predictable—UCLA hits a wide open three. That’s a five point swing in nine seconds. There’s another one of those key exchanges. UCLA leads 39-36.

13:19    After Felix gets inside and scores, Prince Ibeh, the Horns’ 6’10” freshman, forces a Muhammud miss, and Texas heads the other way leading 41-39. There have been times—particularly when he’s been on the free throw line—when I’ve wondered how Ibeh could’ve been ranked so highly coming out of high school, but I do think that with a little patience, he can become an elite rim-protector.

12:02    McClellan knocks down an elbow jumper, giving Texas a 43-40 advantage. Once he improves his handle, there’s absolutely no reason McClellan can’t be an elite scorer, as he’s shown he can shoot from deep, work the midrange game, and finish at the rim.

11:08    Ridley gets fouled on a put back and goes to the line. He’s started to show some real signs the last couple games, and he’s been extremely aggressive today. Even better, he hits both free throws to tie the game at 45.

8:43    After Felix and Muhammud exchange jumpers, Juice makes UCLA’s zone pay by burying a three. Not exactly the greatest possession, as Texas pretty much just passed it around the perimeter, but made shots make everybody look like geniuses.

7:00    Ridley continues his aggressive play by putting together back-to-back possessions, hitting one of two free throws on the first, and scoring on an out-of-bounds play on the next. He’s got a career-high 14 points, and Texas has a 53-49 lead. The Horns have only turned it over nine times in the game, and they’ve outrebounded UCLA by double digits in the second half.

6:06    Texas pushes the lead to 56-49, as Lewis hits another three. More importantly, Dan Shulman once again refers to Lewis as “Juice.” That’s right…it’s going national.

5:38    Lewis gets caught reaching, and UCLA hits two foul shots to pull within five. I’m all for aggression, but the Texas guards should also remember they have erasers behind them in Ridley and Ibeh. No need for a foul like that.

3:43    We’re on an all Juice diet right now. Lewis scores on a drive on one end, fouls Jordan Adams on the other, then gets fouled himself off a strong cut and good feed from Holmes. He hits one of two at the line to cap a 12-4 Texas run. 59-51 Horns.

2:19    I’ve always been a huge Barnes supporter, but one of the things that’s always bothered me is how he tends to go ultra-conservative when his team has a lead in the final four or five minutes of a close game. He starts trying to run the clock out too early. That’s risky when you have a first-class closer like T.J. Ford or D.J. Augustin, but it’s outright dangerous when you have anyone else. You just rarely get a high quality look when you go away from your normal offense, which leads to wasted possessions, which allows the other team to get back in it.

Sure enough, clinging to a two-possession, 61-55 lead, Texas stands around until Lewis is forced to throw up an off-balance shot off the wrong foot. Fortunately, UCLA goes for the J’Covan Brown homerun pass and throws it out of bounds. Outside of Wes Unseld or Kevin Love, that pass is probably completed at about a 6.8% clip, but that never stopped J’Covan from heaving it. I miss him.

2:07    Once again, Dickie V is proven correct, as strong, on-ball pressure gets to Felix, forcing a turnover. UCLA’s Jordan Adams scores, gets fouled, and converts the free throw. 61-58 Texas. Can somebody knock the power out in Reliant to break this Bruins run?

1:15    Up three, Texas tries to milk clock, and what do you know? McClellan forces up a bad shot looking for a foul but doesn’t get it. Adams converts yet another “And 1”, and the game is tied at 61. Adams and Muhammud have scored 23 of the Bruins’ 29 second half points.

:47    Trying to force a pass through traffic to Connor Lammert, Felix commits another turnover, and McClellan fouls Muhammud, who makes one of two at the line. Texas now trails 62-61.

It’s in these late-game situations where it’s just hard to feel any sort of confidence right now. Where do the Horns go for a bucket? Who’s the go-to guy? After all, Kevin Durant, or even J’Covan Brown, isn’t walking through that door.

:24    In Hawaii against USC, it was Julien Lewis. Today, it’s Javan Felix, who dribbles around a bunch and forces a poor shot. Nobody gets back on defense, and Kyle Anderson makes a layup at the other end. That’s 11 unanswered by UCLA. What was once an eight point lead has now turned into a three point deficit.

With one timeout left, Texas could go for a quick two and foul to try to extend the game, but they don’t get a shot up until 15 seconds have run off the clock. And that would’ve been a perfectly acceptable strategy had they gone for the tie with a three. Instead, they get a twisting Jonathan Holmes’ banker, cutting UCLA’s lead to 64-63, and call their final timeout. Jordan Adams, a 91% free throw shooter, is fouled on the Bruins’ inbound play.

:05    Adams misses one of two, and Holmes collects the rebound for Texas with enough time to advance the ball up the floor for a game-tying or winning look.

:00    Instead of getting it to a guard, though, Holmes dribbles up the right side and heaves a wild 35 footer that comes closer to hitting my parents’ house in Sugar Land than to hitting the bottom of the net in Reliant.

Final score: UCLA 65, Texas 63

If you’re keeping score at home, that was a 12-2 run for UCLA over the final three minutes. Unfortunately, this is just what young teams do—they figure out ways to lose. Either they don’t show up and get blown out, or they play hard and find a way to end up on the wrong end of enough of those key sequences that shape the course of the game.

In spite of the outcome, though, there were a number of positives—the all-around play of Javan Felix, the aggression of Cameron Ridley, and the fact that, late into the second half, they were up eight with a chance to close. Final judgment on this team shouldn’t be passed until Myck Kabongo is back in the lineup (and who knows if/when that will happen), but until then, we just have to take what we can get:

Baby steps.

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You can contact Brent Stoller at hookemheadlines@gmail.com.