You didn't really think they got that completely out of their system, did you?
You were probably hoping it was behind them, that you'd never have to see it again.
But the Bad-Effort Bruins made an encore appearance Sunday night, losing to Cal in overtime, 76-72.
I think there are some things we're just going to have to come to terms with: Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson will always be capable of putting out a poor effort on the floor, and Ben Howland is always capable of allowing them to play regardless of it.
It's a shame that this team's fate is so tied into those three elements. But Howland has tied his ship to Honeycutt and Nelson by not benching them when they play with suck a lackluster effort as they did Sunday night. This is what happens when you make these types of players the leaders of your team. And don't ever think that's not the case – Honeycutt plays the most minutes on the team, averaging 34 per game, and Nelson is third in minutes played (behind Malcolm Lee), averaging 31. And there personalities are the dominating ones in the locker room. It is a true reflection of Howland's perspective on it – that Honeycutt plays more minutes than the guy who is the team's true warrior and MVP, Malcolm Lee.
The Bad-Effort Bruins, kind of like Mr. Hyde, hadn't manifested lately. They made quite a few appearances in the first half of the season, but less in the last month. In fact, it's probably been five games in a row without an appearance, not since the ASU game.
But like a case of herpes, there it was again Sunday, flaring up. It really is so similar to herpes – with its sufferer thinking and hoping that it really has gone away for good, only to manifest once more.
It's now clear who Honeycutt is, and we really can't expect him to be any different. Offensively, he's a jump-shooter. He went 4-for-8 from three against Cal, and admittedly hit some big three-pointers. But let's get some perspective, even on the outside shooting. Even despite his performance at Cal and Stanford, Honeycutt is not a great three-point shooter. He's shooting 35% on the season. In the six previous games before the Stanford game, he was 2 of 19 from three, which is 10.5%. And don't think he's gotten better as the season has progressed: He shot 38% in non-conference games, and has shot 32% in the conference. So, don't get all atwitter about his 8-of-16 shooting from three against Stanford and Cal. But then, take the rest of his offensive game into consideration and you're not left with a very good overall picture: He can't take anyone off the dribble or create his own shot; he'll occasionally make a nice pass, but he more than makes up for those passes with his turnovers (80 turnovers to 74 assists on the season); he's a good rebounder, for the most part, but is inconsistent (he had 13 rebounds against Oregon a few games ago, but other than that is averaging 4.4 rebounds per game for the five other most recent games); and he is a very good shotblocker. Overall, it's a complete no-brainer that, if you add it all up and take into consideration the entire package – the limited offensive game, the negative assist-to-turnover ratio, the inconsistent rebounding and the good shotblocking, there is no way it comes out on the positive side when you put it up against his atrocious defense, like the one he played against Cal.
We could laundry list so many instances in the Cal game in which Honeycutt was bad defensively or in blocking out for rebounds (It was clear why he didn't get one rebound in this game, because it looked like he had completely given up on blocking out). It's embarrassing to the UCLA program, and the distressing thing about it is that UCLA and Howland allow it to continue to be put out there as UCLA's calling card. Every time Honeycutt plays without effort like against Cal it erodes Howland's reputation.
It's absolutely surreal when, watching the Fox telecast, former Oregon coach Ernie Kent, working as a commentator, is pumping up Honeycutt as someone "with all of the tools" and one of the best players in the country. I guess, for Kent, playing hard isn't one of the tools. First, you have to wonder what's Kent's agenda, and secondly, it only exacerbates the embarrassment factor – because anyone who knows a bit of what they're looking at (and apparently that doesn't include Kent) recognizes what Honeycutt is doing on the court.
Allowing a good but not great player like Cal's Jorge Gutierrez go around him at will to score a career-high 34 points was the biggest illustration of the Honeycutt Phenomenon. Gutierrez is a tough, hard-working college player that embodies everything that Honeycutt isn't.
What will really tell the tale is if Honeycutt, as is widely expected, puts his name into the NBA draft at the end of the season. We've heard from a good amount of sources that he's clearly leaning that way. It appears that Honeycutt, who was never a hard-working player but always had a casual, too-cool approach to the game, doesn't much care about the Bruins' season, but simply is biding his time to get out of UCLA. The most inexplicable aspect of this is that, even if he didn't care about the Bruins' season, you'd think he'd at least want to put on a good show for NBA scouts. It must either be that he's convinced the product he's putting out on the floor is a good one in the eyes of NBA scouts, or he's just too cavalier to even care.
If he does, indeed, get drafted high in the first round, it will set a regrettable precedent of rewarding a player who doesn't care enough to play hard in college. Good luck to whatever NBA team takes him.
Nelson also had a poor-effort game, falling right back into his old, bad habits of little effort on defense and in blocking out (Do Honeycutt and Nelson get together before the game and confer about this? Because it does almost appear like a conspiracy, when both at the same time decide not to play hard and not block out). We had settled in and were satisfied with the most recent version of Nelson, the one who didn't necessarily score as much, but still rebounded and played hard defensively. That Nelson was worth having on the court, because ultimately he had more positives on the court than negatives. But the negative-sum Nelson, the Mr. Hyde, showed himself against Cal. It was surreal (there's that word again) when Nelson didn't block out on the Cal free throw in overtime. And it's surreal that Howland continues to allow him to run the break, being a turnover machine in doing it.
Other things to note in the game:
-- Howland broke out a zone for a fair amount in the second half. It wasn't a very tight-knit zone, but was effective, mostly because it surprised Cal and made them have to adjust. It's a good thing to flash at this point in the season, because UCLA's remaining opponents will, at least, have to spend a modicum of time preparing to play against a zone. And when your bigs are in foul trouble and you have your future NBA star unable to stay in front of a moderately talented college player it's a good thing to have in your repertoire.
-- Brendan Lane looked good again, continuing to show a renewed sense of energy since he took a few days off last week due to his grandfather's funeral. In 13 minutes he had 7 points and four rebounds, getting a couple of key putbacks in the second half down the stretch, and he was active on defense.
-- UCLA got out-rebounded by Cal, 36-32. It's pretty much a huge indicator of whether UCLA is playing hard or not – whether they're out-rebounding an opponent they should be out-rebounding. In perhaps the poorest half of the season, the first half against Cal, UCLA was out-rebounded 22-13.
-- UCLA had 18 turnovers. Nelson had 5 and Honeycutt 6.
-- Lee, as we said, was a warrior, again. He led UCLA with 19 points, had 3 assists against just one turnover, and played great defense on Allen Crabbe, holding him to 8 points. His three pointer that bounced off the front of the rim and dropped in to end regulation and send the game into overtime looked almost like a movie.
-- If we're talking inexplicable, it's a head-scratcher why Howland would have Lee guard Crabbe, who is mostly an outside shooter, and perhaps make the biggest defensive match-up mistake since the Westbrook-Rose choice and put Honeycutt on Gutierrez, who isn't a great shooter but a good driver. In fact, if you might have noticed, when UCLA went small, Honeycutt did a much better job of defending Harper Kamp, a guy who out-weighs him by 40 pounds, than he did Gutierrez. As we've maintained from the season preview, Honeycutt is far more effective guarding a bigger, stronger four than he is a smaller, quicker wing. But let's say you even started with Honeycutt on Gutierrez, wouldn't you have made a switch quite a bit earlier, realizing that Crabbe was still recovering from his injury, and Honeycutt would be less challenged defensively to guard him, while Lee would have a much better chance against Gutierrez, who was dribbling around Honeycutt at will? Howland didn't switch Honeycutt off Gutierrez and put Lee on him until a few minutes left in the game, after the damage had been considerably done.
With just four games remaining in the Pac-10 regular season, and then the Pac-10 tournament and almost certainly the NCAA tournament, the season has now become this: UCLA fans will go to bed fearful they're going to wake up and the Bad-Effort Bruins will have manifested once again. The symptoms, over the last month, have presented themselves far less frequently, so, if you want to be relentlessly optimistic, you can certainly hope that we won't see them again.