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Offensive Without Offense

The only thing surprising about this year’s Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood series between UCLA and Kansas was the fact that, for much of the game, UCLA fans could hold onto dreams of upsetting the #1 team in the country. The game was still within reach in the beginning of the second half, as close as 4 points, and UCLA’s traditionally stout defense had confused the Jayhawks star-studded lineup far more than any expected. Maybe this “rebuilding” year, to put it lightly, had hopes of showing distinct progress and earning a signature victory to counteract the disgusting taste in the mouths of Bruin fans this year.

But not surprisingly, Kansas easily pulled away, shut down the Bruins defensively, and won in what essentially was a blowout. The close score at times was very misleading. UCLA truly had no chance in the game. The fortune was that UCLA was not crushed by a far superior team.

This team demonstrated once again how incomplete they are. It is hard to look beyond the three straight Final Fours, but there has been a serious problem with the Bruins under Howland, and has become overtly apparent the past two seasons. For the UCLA basketball program, any future improvement and success must come from an area that seems to terrify Ben Howland: Offense

It has to be shocking that, year in and year out, the Bruins seem to become less and less effective at one entire half of the game of basketball. The young talent at UCLA is not being utilized efficiently in Ben Howland’s predictable and unimaginative offense.

Please do not confuse these comments as a statement that Howland is not a capable coach. No on can deny that he is a defensive mastermind, tremendous recruiter, maintains a very disciplined program, and is a classy guy. Plus, his resume speaks for itself. So a blogger questioning the coaching technique of Ben Howland must seem like a pre-schooler challenging Stephen Hawking during a lecture.

But in this case, even the pre-schooler can tell that Hawking is only giving half of his lecture. Fans who have watched a Howland team, even during the Final Four years (which seem like a very distant memory) can clearly see how weak this team’s offense is and has been. Basically any zone defense will completely confound the Bruins, and have given Howland problems throughout his tenure. The offense’s lack of imagination, technique, coordination, and productive ball movement must make it a dream for defensive coaches to scheme against. I can only imagine what they say when preparing their players to defend against UCLA.

“Alright boys, their guard will start by lazily carrying the ball past half-court and pass it off, if he can get it there without turning it over. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT worry about the guards dribble driving! In all likelihood they will just pass between three players around the three-point line for about 25 seconds, desperately looking for an open three-point shot. If someone does try to drive, just slide one man over towards him. The driver will not take it to the hoop or try to pass inside. He will in all likelihood pass back out to the wing, and the useless passing drill will start again.”

“If at all possible, the Bruins will try to avoid getting the ball into the post. But in case they do try, simply double team the ballhandler and he will lose the ball within a few seconds. None of his teammates will attempt to move vacated spots in hopes of getting a pass and easy layup. “

“ By the end of the shot-clock, one of three “inconsistent” shooters will most likely chuck-up a prayer three-pointer. A simple, unaggressive box-out is all that you will need to get the rebound.”

“And remember, if all else fails, just foul the shooter, and we’ll limit them to one point, if THEY are lucky.” This has to be the clearest demonstration of Ben Howland’s ignorance to the importance of offense. UCLA averages an appalling 55% from the free-throw line.

I will repeat: 55% FOR THE TEAM! A team of Shaqs would be more efficient at the charity stripe. And seeing as college basketball has the 1-and-1 free throws, usually the shooter misses the first shot, and suddenly two free throws have become a UCLA turnover.

This is seriously not rocket-science, or even arithmetic. There is a direct linear relationship between amount of practice devoted to a particular task and its correlated success during application.

In English: More free throws during practice=more free throws made in games.

And this goes for practicing anything in general. Simple physics, yet apparently this concept it too difficult for the Bruins or the coaches to comprehend. When watching a UCLA basketball game, it is too easy to see how little time the Bruins must devote to offense during practice.

While the offensive woes are the result of a number of issues, the primary culprit must be Ben Howland, a defensive guru who may have neglected teaching offense for far too long. This probably cost him a national title or two, and has directly led to the terrible slide UCLA basketball has endured for the past two years.

Even if the amount of practice time devoted to each side of the ball is more balanced than the disparity on the court leads one to believe, it would only prove that Howland is incapable of coaching an effective college offense. Pride must be put aside here and give way to practicality. Howland can no longer hide behind his defense while his desperately challenged offense holds the team back.

In this writer’s opinion, the solution seems obvious, yet unfortunately may be sacrilegious. When UCLA football’s defense was atrocious in 2005, Karl Dorrell hired DeWayne Walker to “coordinate” his “defense,” hence his coaching title as “defensive coordinater.” Does the same theory not apply to basketball. I am unfamiliar with the vast directory of basketball assistant coaches, but certainly there is someone out there who both knows how to construct an offense with Ben Howland’s players (who, by the way, were all coveted and talented recruits) and would be enticed by the chance to coach on Nell and John Wooden floor in Pauley Pavilion.

Too bad Tex Winter is probably unavailable. What does Norm Chow do during basketball season?

Zac S.