In his exaggerated West Virginia twang, former UCLA basketball coach Jim Harrick used to say “the road … is cold … and naaaaasty” when assessing the Bruins’ chances away from Pauley Pavilion.
For this sputtering UCLA team, which plays its first road game of the season today, the degree of nastiness depends in large measure on the play of senior point guard Cameron Dollar.
If the Bruins are to be successful against Illinois this morning at the United Center and St. Louis on Monday at the Kiel Center - indeed, if they are to survive the rugged Pacific-10 road with its harsh crowds, harsher rims and unfriendly officiating - then Dollar must play better than he did last year and in the five home games this year.
The Bruins don’t expect him to be Tyus Edney; they just hope for the calm and controlled Cameron Dollar of Arkansas lore. And to do it, the man with the money name must commit to a belief that “less is more.”
“That’s what we continue to work with him on,” coach Steve Lavin said. “He doesn’t need to do anything special. He has to understand the different speeds and determine the tempo we need to play.”
Dollar has always played at one tempo - barreling, breakaway, freeway speed. That’s tolerable in Pauley, or in the open court, or when momentum is sitting comfortably on the Bruins’ bench.
But in a tight game, on the road, when the enemy crowd is roaring and the opposing team is rolling and the pace is frenetic, then his bowling-ball speed is a requiem for disaster.
“Since the (Arkansas) game, I’ve tried to learn to shift my game,” said Dollar, referring to the Bruins’ 1995 NCAA championship victory. “I’ve realized I don’t have to go my fastest to beat somebody.”
Tempo isn’t the only measure of Dollar’s effectiveness. The “less is more” philosophy extends to his scoring, court position and passing. Much like a good official, Dollar is at his best if unnoticed - if he’s directing the offense, passing, disrupting on defense and maintaining the Bruins’ court balance.
His ideal stat line? He’ll take two turnovers, three steals, five points and nine assists any day, any opponent.
“He doesn’t need to shoot a lot of 3-pointers or score a lot,” Lavin said. “He just has to set the table. We have prolific scorers.
“A scorer is self-directed. We want the point guard to be other-directed.”
But Dollar’s decision-making has been sporadic so far. He threw two ill-advised, 40-foot alley-oop passes against a Jackson State team that couldn’t stop UCLA’s basic attack. Less is more. His 3-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio is slightly better than last year’s number, but it’s not good enough. And he still enters the lane at high speeds with no shot, no pass and no place to go.
“From foul line to foul line is like the 405 Freeway,” Lavin said. “But foul line to baseline is like downtown traffic. That’s where you run over old ladies or kids on skateboards.”
Nor can Dollar be a liability on offense. He must make defenses guard him, or his teammates will play four-against-five. That means an occasional 3-pointer (he has not attempted any this year) and improving his woeful 28.6 fieldgoal percentage.
“I haven’t been hitting my shots, but that will come. I’m not concerned,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing my job. We’ve got five guys averaging in double figures, we’re leading the nation in field-goal percentage, our turnovers are decreasing, and we’ve gotten over the speed bump of the early season stuff.”
But when the yellow light flashes - whether it’s today, Monday or next month - will Dollar slow down?
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jon Wilner Los Angeles Daily News
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.