UCLA Basketball: How Bruins Must Improve Before Starting Pac-12 Schedule
UCLA tallied its eighth consecutive win to begin the season on Tuesday, piling up its best start to a season since the 2006-07 season, a campaign in which the Bruins made a trip to the Final Four.
As impressive as the Bruins’ start is after going 5-3 through eight games last season with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, there is still plenty of room for improvement for the team to make before it begins its Pac-12 schedule against USC a month from Thursday (Jan. 5).
While this team has startled many critics by establishing itself as one of the premier teams in the nation, UCLA has a few loose screws it needs to tighten as its continues non-conference play.
Here’s a look at what/whom those screws are.
Much like last season, UCLA has great perimeter defense, but its interior defense is lagging.
Although senior forwards David and Travis Wear have improved significantly on both ends of the floor during their time in Westwood, they are still subpar defenders for their size at 6’10”.
In addition, sophomore center Tony Parker has yet to find his bearings on the defensive end. His lack of coordination and effective guarding have been a huge stain not just on his early collegiate career but on the Bruins in general.
Fortunately for UCLA, Kyle Anderson is fairly reliable at holding down the paint on the defensive end, and has averaged 1.1 blocks per game through the Bruins’ first eight games.
Additionally, the Bruins’ defense as a unit looks improved under new head coach Steve Alford, but in order for the team to have a successful Pac-12 season, it’ll have to develop its interior defense.
Parker’s Fouling Tendencies
Everyone is well aware that sophomore center Tony Parker is a talented player with loads of potential, but his inability to stay on the court due to foul trouble has stymied his development.
Although the brawny 6’9” center seems to have improved slightly from his freshman season, he still has yet to shake his fouling tendencies and has already picked up four fouls or more in three out of eight games.
Moreover, what seemed like a breakout performance for Parker against Oakland (21 PTS, 12 REB, 3 BLK, 2 STL) now appears to have been an anomaly, as he’s only averaged 5.8 points since the career night.
If UCLA is to be in the upper ranks of the Pac-12 as it hopes to be, Parker will have to fast track his development, which begins with garnering a better understanding of the college game and picking up less fouls.
With an already shorthanded frontcourt, the Bruins need Parker on the court and need him to be effective when he’s in the game.
If he’s constantly fouling the opposition like he has been for the early stages of his collegiate career, he’s not only limiting his playing time but also allowing costly trips to the free-throw line to the opposing team.
Travis Wear Settles
From his performance so far in the 2013-14 season, it’s apparent that Travis Wear is going to need some time to adjust to being back on the court.
The Bruins’ senior forward was sidelined for the team’s first three games after undergoing an appendectomy, which has set back his game much more than anticipated.
After averaging 10.9 points with 5.2 rebounds per game last season, Wear has put up a mere 6.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in his first five games of his senior season.
Although Coach Alford has Wear coming off the bench and his twin brother David starting at forward, Travis is expected to be a starter this season and a major contributor to the team when he's back up to speed.
Wear was expected to require some time to attain his usual level of play after his appendicitis, so the Bruins need not panic at his substandard play.
However, even with reduced minutes, Wear hasn’t looked good on the floor. While he had a good performance in his senior debut (11 PTS, 4 REB), Wear has since looked docile on the court, most recently going 0-for-2 with 0 points in 15 minutes played against Santa Barbara.
UCLA is already sparsely manned in the frontcourt, which makes it all the more important that Wear work himself back into form in the Bruins’ remaining handful of non-conference games.
Backup Point Guards
Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine have proven themselves talented guards in their eight games in blue and gold.
While they’ve both done a decent job backing up sophomore starting point guard Kyle Anderson, they still have room for improvement at running the point.
Both guards are above-average shooters and can facilitate at will, but they’ve yet to pilot the flow of the offense, which is a significant gap when Anderson is not on the floor.
Maintaining the effective offensive flow set by Anderson is something that can only be established over time as the two freshman guards familiarize themselves with Coach Alford’s offensive scheme.
Nonetheless, UCLA needs the offensive flow to click for at least one of the two backup point guards before Pac-12 play begins, as the Bruins will take on their toughest opponent, No. 2 Arizona, in their second conference matchup.
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