UCLA Basketball: Biggest Improvements Bruins Have Made in 2013-14
Nine games into last season, UCLA was a conundrum.
After tallying their third loss of the season to San Diego State the prior game, the 6-3 Bruins barely eked out a win over Texas in one of the sloppiest Division I college basketball games you’ll ever see.
This year, the 8-1 Bruins have given way to a different story.
Even after tallying their first loss of the season and of new head coach Steve Alford’s UCLA career, the Bruins have a much brighter outlook for this season, founded in sophomore talents Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson and electric freshman Zach LaVine.
As UCLA faces its final stretch of nonconference games, here’s a look at the improvements the Bruins have made this season.
In comparison to last season, UCLA has demonstrated greatly improved ball movement so far this season.
Unlike the past few seasons under former head coach Ben Howland, the Bruins are playing much more like a team on offense instead of relying on a specific player or two to handle the ball.
Even without prolific facilitator Larry Drew II, who averaged 7.3 assists per game last season and tallied the most assists in a single season for UCLA, the Bruins are averaging more assists this season.
Although UCLA averaged 16 assists (T-11th in the nation) last season, most of those dimes were dished by starting point guard LD2 and backup point guard Kyle Anderson (3.5 assists per game).
This season’s quite a different story.
As starting point guard, Anderson is averaging an impressive 7.1 assists per game, but he doesn’t account for even half of the Bruins’ assists.
UCLA currently ranks fourth in the nation in assists per game (18.8), thanks to unselfish play not just from Anderson but from fellow guards Jordan Adams (2.7), Norman Powell (2.1), Zach LaVine (2.1), and Bryce Alford (3.1).
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding new head coach Steve Alford, but he’s already drastically changed one thing in the program: demeanor.
Unlike UCLA’s most recent seasons, the Bruins have bought in to Alford’s system and appear to be enjoying themselves on the court.
Moreover, there’s a tenacity to this team, epitomized by electric freshman Zach LaVine, that has been absent from the program for the past few seasons.
Above all, the Bruins have proved themselves determined to win at whatever cost, which is a priceless trait for them to carry throughout the season.
The players coming off the bench for UCLA are a significant step up from last season.
Of course, the difference is expected, as UCLA essentially had only two players (David Wear and Norman Powell) coming of the bench—both of whom played relatively small offensive roles—with Tony Parker remaining ineffective due to constant foul trouble.
This year, the Bruins have not only added depth to the bench by inserting an additional four freshmen (Bryce Alford, Zach LaVine, Wanaah Bail, Noah Allen) but have also added two dynamic talents in Alford and LaVine.
Combined, the two freshman guards are averaging 21.1 points per game, which is well beyond what David Wear, Parker and Powell averaged last season (15.6 PPG).
Beyond the offensive boost, the bench has also brought endless energy for the Bruins, which has been an integral factor to their success.
As expected, star guards Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson are flourishing in their sophomore seasons.
Although both players displayed impressive talent in their inaugural collegiate seasons, they’ve both stepped up their game immensely in their second seasons in Westwood.
Through nine games, Adams is averaging 21.6 points with 3.3 steals per game, and Anderson has averaged 13.9 points while pulling in 8.9 rebounds and dishing out 7.1 assists per game.
Both players have rounded out their play by improving upon specific aspects of their game.
Adams, for example, has developed a quicker trigger on his shot and has become more tenacious in attacking the basket, and Anderson has developed his outside shot tremendously, making seven out of 13 three-pointers (54 percent) so far.
Although he still has an uphill battle before he reaches his potential, even sophomore center Tony Parker has displayed improvement after a disappointing freshman season.
As we discovered in UCLA’s recent loss to Missouri, the Bruins still have some tweaks to make to their defense, but in general, their defense has considerably improved from last season.
A byproduct of their amped-up demeanor, the Bruins have become much more determined on the defensive end, which has put tremendous pressure on their opponents.
UCLA’s guards are constantly pouncing on defenders and picking their pockets, and the team is currently ranked second in the country in steals per game (11.2).
As they approach the latter stages of nonconference play, the Bruins need to intensify their defensive presence in the paint (UCLA is tied for 73rd in the nation with a mediocre 26.6 defensive rebounds per game), but overall, their collective team defense has greatly improved.