Rebounding becomes focal point for UCLA

LOS ANGELES — Before the start of last week, it appeared the sky was falling on the UCLA basketball season. They lost three of four, including back-to-back losses at home. The last, coming against crosstown rival USC, a team that entered the game losers of five of their last seven games.

Sunday however, provided a ray of sunshine. With Cal’s win over Arizona, it pulled the Bruins to within a tie of first place. The Bruins could have certainly dug a much deeper hole for themselves, but remained just one game out of first place following the USC loss. They swept the Washington schools last week and received some help in order to go to bed Sunday night in a first-place tie.  

“I think it’s a relief,” Shabazz Muhammad said of being in a first-place tie. “I think it’s a blessing, so we’re really going to try to take advantage of it and come down here and have a strong run.”

UCLA head coach Ben Howland believes the conference championship is going to be decided on the last weekend of the regular season.

Despite the Bruins being tied for first place with Arizona and Oregon, Howland is emphatic about what it’s going to take for them to be there at the end of the regular season.

“If we’re going to have a chance to win this conference, we’re not going to win it continuing on the path we’re on from a rebounding standpoint,” Howland said.

The Bruins have not been a good rebounding team all season, and since the start of conference play, they’ve gotten progressively worse.

UCLA is the only team in the conference with a negative rebounding margin this season. Through 24 games, they are -0.2, worst in the conference.

In Pac-12 play, they have a rebounding margin of -6.1, which is also worst in the conference.

The UCLA bigs 6’9” Kyle Anderson, the 6’10” Wear Twins, and seldom used 6’9” Tony Parker need help from the guards to rebound. They’re often caught leaking out, leading to offensive rebounds for the opposition.

In conference games, the Bruins have allowed more offensive rebounds than any team in the conference. The 154 offensive rebounds UCLA has allowed in 11 conference games are 20 more than the next worst team, Colorado.  

“We need more rebounds out of our guards,” Howland said. “Guys are so anxious to get out and get going that they’re not rebounding. I think about this all the time. I’m alone in my thoughts constantly about this stuff.

“It’s a tradeoff. We’re a much better transition team but we don’t have Kevin Love getting every rebound for us so it makes it more difficult when you’re giving up that kind of difference.”  

Said Travis Wear,“It helps us out a lot (when the guards rebound) because we’re not necessarily that big of a team, so we really got to focus on boxing out the other team’s bigs. When we got guards coming in to pick up the short ones or just being around the hoop to pick up the ones that go over our heads, it helps tremendously.”

The guards are capable of carrying a larger load on the rebounding end but just aren’t wired that way. The first instinct once an opponent takes a shot is to leak out. It’s a byproduct of today’s grassroots culture.

“It’s AAU ball,” Howland said. “That’s what you do. (The mindset is) ‘I want to get out there first and score.’

“You go out and watch the games in the summer right? There’s not a lot of great blockouts going on.”

Muhammad, who leads the team in offensive rebounds, agrees.

“AAU and high school, I think, it was kind of where I wasn’t really doing that kind of stuff and I wasn’t really held accountable for them and now I am,” he said.

The whole team is being held accountable.

“They’re hearing it from me, until I am blue in the face and it’ll be big for us as we move forward,” Howland said. The closer you get to March, every game is big. People are looking at it. People are saying ‘hey, they’re getting outboarded, we got to kill them on the glass.’ It’s a point of emphasis.”