UCLA Basketball: What Must Change for Bruins Before Facing Duke?
As UCLA demonstrated in its loss to its first formidable opponent, it has some refinement to do in order to solidify into the team it’s capable of becoming.
The previously undefeated Bruins (8-1) fell to unbeaten Missouri, 80-71, in Columbia on Saturday, which served as their first true road game.
While there were some strong points to the Bruins’ play against the Tigers (9-0), there was an assortment of lapses on their end that ultimately led to their first loss of the season.
Although it was by no means an alarming defeat, UCLA will only have one game to regroup before taking on an even tougher opponent in No. 8 Duke.
As the Bruins approach that defining game next week, let’s take a look at what UCLA must change based on its performance against Missouri.
Let’s start with what UCLA did right against Missouri that the Bruins should maintain against Duke.
Defensive Intensity: The Bruins had gritty defensive pressure the entire game, forcing Missouri to make numerous turnovers. In all, UCLA had 13 steals, including five by Bryce Alford and three by Jordan Adams.
Fast-break Tenacity: UCLA was extremely aggressive in getting to the basket on their fast-breaks, which were punctuated by explosive slams from Zach LaVine.
Drawing Fouls: UCLA’s guards were effective in drawing fouls while attacking the basket, which eventually forced Missouri to open up in the paint. Had the Bruins been able to capitalize on a few more of those opportunities, they would’ve won.
Managing the Pace
Now, for the necessary improvements.
UCLA did an excellent job of maintaining the fast pace it desired for the first 15 minutes against Missouri, the Bruins let the Tigers slow down the game to thrust the Bruins out of their comfort zone.
In order for UCLA to beat Duke, it will have to sustain its desired pace for the majority of the game.
However, UCLA first needs to establish a comfortable pace, which it didn’t do even when it was controlling the play against Missouri.
The Bruins' fast-paced offense propelled them to an early lead, but it was often too fast, leading to a flood of transition buckets for Missouri.
UCLA’s ball movement was good, but seemed a bit rushed and overly regimented. If the Bruins continue that quick offense, they need to become more disciplined in selecting their shots.
With such a quick offense, UCLA needs to focus on attacking the basket earlier in the shot clock and eliminate ill-advised transition threes from forwards David and Travis Wear.
Controlling the Paint
The gaping hole in UCLA’s play against Missouri came in its frontcourt.
Starting forwards David Wear and Tony Parker combined for a measly five points and five rebounds while the Bruins’ frontcourt only accounted for seven of the team’s 71 points (9.8 percent) and seven of its 30 rebounds (23 percent)—three fewer rebounds than guard Jordan Adams collected on his own.
Missouri’s physical play overmatched the Bruins’ frontcourt, which was outrebounded, 30-18, surrendering 17 offensive rebounds to the Tigers.
UCLA primarily relies on its guards for the bulk of its offensive production so that it can survive without tremendous scoring efforts from its frontcourt.
However, the Bruins can’t win against tough opponents if the frontcourt can’t take command of the paint, particularly on defense.
In UCLA’s loss to Missouri, the Tigers closed the Bruins’ 13-point lead by scoring easy baskets at the rim on second-chance opportunities, particularly off of missed three-pointers.
If UCLA is to defeat Duke, it will need to be able to rely on its frontcourt to secure the paint. A team doesn’t stand much chance of winning when its frontcourt tallies more fouls (10) than points (seven).
Maintaining Defensive Shape
There were aspects of UCLA’s defense that were impressive in its game against Missouri, but overall, its defensive effort was mediocre.
While the intensity was there on defense, the Bruins’ transition defense was poor, and they surrendered a handful of easy buckets to Missouri by failing to hustle back and pick up players in transition—most importantly, the man with the ball.
The opposite was true when the Bruins were in their half-court defensive set.
Instead of nobody picking up the man with the ball, several Bruins tended to converge on the ball when there was penetration, enabling Missouri’s guards to get open looks from the perimeter, which they capitalized upon.
UCLA’s overly aggressive habits on defense are a good problem for head coach Steve Alford to have, but they need to be fixed before the Bruins take on Duke, which shoots 42 percent from deep.
One of the biggest deficiencies in the Bruins’ defense against Missouri concerned their frontcourt falling out of position, which allowed the Tigers to dominate the boards.
Sophomore forward Tony Parker was the worst offender. He would often stray too far on the perimeter, forcing UCLA’s guards to pick up Missouri’s forwards, and usually with no success.
UCLA has the right defensive tools in place, but it will need to maintain its defense in order to be effective against a high-scoring team like Duke, which is averaging 86 points per game.
Anderson Must Keep Offense Flowing
As important as it is for UCLA to find and sustain a comfortable pace for the duration of a game, it can’t succeed unless its offense flows well.
Starting point guard Kyle Anderson has manned the point well for the Bruins this season, but he faltered in their loss to Missouri.
Averaging a assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4 with 7.1 assists per game, Anderson has been the catalyst of UCLA's offense, but his game against Missouri was an entirely different story.
The normally confident 6’9” guard, tagged “Slow-Mo,” seemed to let his nerves get the best of him against Missouri, turning the ball over four times while recording a season-low two assists.
Backup freshman point guards Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine did a good job of running the offense when they were in the game, but Anderson is ultimately the one who sets the flow of UCLA’s offense.
If UCLA is to go blow-for-blow with Duke, it’ll need Anderson to keep the offense flowing and have a larger impact by attacking the basket more often and keeping the Blue Devils on their toes.
Making the Easy Buckets
Even though it was overmatched by Missouri’s physical style, UCLA would have won if it would’ve simply made the easy buckets.
The Bruins’ frontcourt missed a handful of opportunities right at the rim that could’ve added a pair of points here and there to narrow the deficit in the second half.
Both forwards Tony Parker and Wannah Bail had gimme buckets that they missed because they didn’t go to the basket strongly enough.
However, the forwards weren’t the only ones who botched easy points. Even Jordan Adams—who had another spectacular game with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals—was a perpetrator of this basketball crime.
Although he draws fouls well when driving, Adams failed to capitalize on easy buckets when he was fouled that could have turned into important three-point plays. He ended the night just 6-for-18 from the field.
When facing formidable competition like Duke, UCLA needs to capitalize on easy scoring opportunities, which usually prove the difference-maker between closely matched teams.