Hat tip to commenter Seamus, who called my attention to an LA Times article by Bill Plaschke. Plaschke makes an intriguing argument: namely, that UCLA coach Ben Howland's ironclad commitment to man-to-man defense, and the three first-half fouls on Bruin forward Alfred Aboya, were major causes of UCLA's unravelling in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
Here's the key quote from Plaschke's article, titled "Shaken to its core, UCLA must begin to rebuild..."
Although UCLA actually played about as hard as could be expected with a foot on its chest, Villanova exposed what many consider to be the Bruins' two biggest weaknesses: lack of a consistent inside game, and Howland's stubbornness.I was intrigued by that hypothesis, and decided to take a look at the play-by-play. Aboya did in fact pick up two very quick fouls, less than three minutes into the contest. The first came just over a minute from tip-off, and the second almost as soon, the 17:17 mark.
With only Aboya as an inside defensive threat -- and he picked up three fouls before halftime -- Wildcats guards controlled the game with constant dribble penetration.
With Howland's refusal to play zone defense, the slower Bruins were rendered helpless.
Howland vowed to find a stronger inside presence by next season. But he also vowed to never abandon his trademark man-to-man philosophy.
Asked whether this game would persuade him to teach a zone, he spoke stronger than his players played.
"No," he said.
The live blog written by CBS2 in Los Angeles notes that "UCLA center Alfred Aboya picked up his second foul at the 17:17 mark and went to the bench." Aboya did not sit down for the balance of the half, with the two fouls, though. He is recorded as collecting a rebound shortly after the second foul, committing a turnover to Corey Stokes at the 12:59 mark, and making a layup three minutes later to trim Villanova's lead to 28-13.
It was logical for Howland to leave him in the game, with the two fouls, given the fact that the Bruins didn't really have anyone to replace him underneath.
The CBS2 blog perceptively notes that:
13:20 Cunningham giving UCLA fitsAboya committed his third foul at the 6:52 mark, with UCLA trailing 33-18, sending Dwayne Anderson to the line, who made one of two. (Aboya himself had just made one of two at the 7:07 mark, being sent there by Antonio Pena). Aboya vanishes from the play-by-play for the remainder of the half, so he probably spent the last 6:52 of the half there. The CBS2 live blog - having a very substantive analysis, I highly recommend it- records that:
Right now, the Bruins don't have an answer for Villanova's Dante Cunningham, who has gone 3-for-3 in the early going after sinking a 15-footer when UCLA backup center Drew Gordon hesitated on stepping out to guard him at the foul line. And as soon as the Bruins try to collapse on Cunningham, Corey Stokes makes a 3-pointer to give Villanova a 20-9 lead, forcing UCLA coach Ben Howland to burn his second timeout of the half.
"6:52 Aboya picks up third foulThe full box score indicates that Aboya played only 22 minutes, although he made them count, scoring nine points, grabbing eight rebounds (including three offensive ones) and recorded one steal. Aboya never eventually picked up a fourth foul, so it's possible that Howland left him on the bench because he felt that he needed a quicker lineup, or because he thought he was ineffective.
The gamble by UCLA coach Ben Howland to reinsert Alfred Aboya backfires as the center from Cameroon picks up his third foul in frustrating fashion, after losing his balance on a ball fake."
More intriguing is the idea that Howland's lack of interest in playing zone may have permitted the Wildcats to - literally - run wild in the halfcourt. It's possible. (Note - despite the statements in Plaschke's story and in other outlets about the differences between Big East and Pac-10 basketball, Howland was certainly familiar with Jay Wright and with Villanova and with Big East style of play, given that he had a very impressive run with Pittsburgh not that long ago, and coached against Wright and the Wildcats. And defense was the foundation of those Panther teams.)
Certainly, there is the possibility that Jay Wright and the coaching staff, being familiar with Howland, might have concluded that Howland would never switch to zone, and designed a game plan to exploit that very weakness in the UCLA defense. If that's the case, then the game plan apparently worked to perfection. As Plaschke noted, it was the worst NCAA tournament defeat for UCLA since Howland arrived...
Well, food for thought, anyway. Stop back for more Villanova Wildcats coverage, as we look forward to facing #2 Duke in the NCAA Sweet 16, on Thursday at 10 PM or so...
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