Mississippi State Dominates Struggling Bruins

December 13, 2009

Photo: Tri Le

Anaheim, Calif. - Oh how the mighty have fallen. The proud UCLA tradition suffered another significant blow on Saturday when they were routed 72-54 by Mississippi State at the Wooden Classic. The game was not even as close as the 18-point loss would indicate.

The loss was the 5th in a row for the Bruins, who fell to 2-6. The Bulldogs improved to 7-2 and appeared ready for the upcoming SEC schedule.

Photo: Tri Le

The significant Bruin contingent of fans left the arena shaking their heads wondering how their team could even resemble past UCLA teams. The only genuine expression of excitement from the partisan crowd came when there was a tribute to legendary Coach John Wooden towards the end of the contest.

Mississippi State was led by 6'7" Junior guard Ravem Johnson (pictured to the right), who scored 29 points on 12-15 shooting. The Bulldogs dominated from start to finish and held a commanding 40-19 lead at the half.

The Bruins appeared unable to handle either Johnson or 6'9" Preseason All-American forward Jarvis Varnado.

Jarvis Varnado blocks shot / Photo: Tri Le

Varnado finished with a modest 13 points but was utterly dominant on the defensive end, finishing with 7 blocks and 11 rebounds. The Bruins were unable to get anything in the paint against Varnado, and his intimidating presence made them settle constantly for shots on the perimter. Varnado (pictured to the right blocking a shot) certainly lived up to his reputation on this day, and with games like this he may well finish the season as the all-time shot blocker in NCAA history.

UCLA coach Ben Howland was openly dejected at the press conference and appeared to have no answers for the media, admitting, "I feel terrible that Coach Wooden had to see us play like that...obviously Mississippi State had a lot to do with that." Howland acknowledged that the Pac-10 as a whole appeared to be struggling this year, but noted that the conference had been depleted with the loss of 1st Round draft picks to the NBA in the past few years.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland / Photo: Tri Le

The Bruins particularly have been hit hard by losses to the NBA. They lost their starting backckourt from last year, Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday, to the 1st Round. They lost lottery picks in Kevin Love and Brian Westbrook the year before, while also losing Luc Richard Mba a Moute to the 2nd Round. They even lost Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar to the 1st round the previous two years.

With the loss of so many players to the NBA, the Bruins have been reliant upon other players to raise their games and keep up their tradition of excellence. However, very little has thus far been shown by either their young talent or their veterans. For example, Senior 6'9" Forward Nikola Dragovic was expected to be a big contributor this season but has appeared to have lost his shot altogether. He struggled through 29 minutes of action going scoreless on 0-9 shooting.

Nikola Dragovic / Photo: Tri Le
Michael Roll / Photo: Tri Le

Forward Michael Roll, who finished with 17 points and has been on 3 previous UCLA teams that reached the Final Four, acknowledged that perhaps some of his younger teammates did not yet realize what it took to reach that level. "When you come out of high school you just don't know....but as the season goes on hopefully we will learn that.

Howland even stated he is likely to show his team video footage of Bruin teams of the past few years to help them better understand the defensive scheme. "I haven't done that before but I am going to try that....the young guys need to see it."

Anything is worth a try at this point.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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