After coming into the game with high expectations, UCLA could not keep up with Duke in the second half and lost 80-63. The good news is that this defeat can be a learning experience going forward.
This was the Bruins' second loss in a span of three games after starting the year 8-0. Without many quality nonconference wins, their NCAA tournament resume does not look too great.
However, there is still a long way to go before Selection Sunday. UCLA has a strong chance of performing well in the Pac-12 this year, but the team must improve based on these lessons from the most recent loss.
Jordan Adams Must Be More Aggressive
Over the first 10 games of the season, Jordan Adams was by far the team's best offensive player, averaging 21.2 points per game while making 37.5 percent of his shots from three-point range.
Unfortunately, he was held in check by Duke, finishing with only 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-3 from behind the arc.
Still, the most telling stat of the day was his two made free throws, which is the second-lowest mark of the year. Adams has excelled at driving to the rim and getting himself easy points at the line. Against the length of Duke, he could not do anything.
The sophomore has a natural scoring ability that puts him among the best in the country, but UCLA now depends on this every game. When he struggles to score, so does the rest of the offense.
Head coach Steve Alford credited the Duke defense with shutting down his top scorer, via Howard Megdal of Sports on Earth:
I thought they did a really good job on him. Because it's the first time all year when Jordan has been held down -- where, if his shot wasn't going down, he got to the free-throw line. And they did a good job of containing him, plus keeping him off the free-throw line, so I've got to give Duke, and the players who were on him, a lot of credit.
Still, it will be up to Adams to overcome the defense going forward.
Don't Stop Running
In the first half, UCLA was able to stick with Duke every step of the way thanks to some great transition offense. The Bruins ran up and down the court every chance they could, and it led to a tied score at 37-37 going into intermission.
ESPN's Andy Katz was one of many who noticed the speed of the game:
Um, wasn't there a criticism that Steve Alford wouldn't run enough at UCLA? This team rips, runs, shoots and scores. Good watch.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) December 20, 2013
However, the lack of depth seemed to hurt the squad down the stretch. Only eight players stepped onto the floor for UCLA, and it led to some tired legs, as noted by Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer:
Some of these guys have to be getting a little winded. Not often two teams run up and down and up and down the floor like this— Laura Keeley (@laurakeeley) December 20, 2013
Still, this will not be as much of a problem against most other opponents. Few other teams in the country will be able to keep up with this pace for 40 minutes, and it will give the Bruins the advantage.
The key will be to utilize more players in the rotation, even if it is for a short period of time early in games.
Use Multiple Defenses
Things looked ugly on the defensive end early for UCLA as Duke was able to do pretty much whatever it wanted. However, the switch to zone worked well at first, as noted by ESPN Stats and Information:
Duke shot 55 percent in the 1st half when UCLA was in man defense. But since UCLA switched to zone, Duke is shooting 39 percent.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 20, 2013
Jeff Goodman of ESPN also pointed out that this strategy has been a common thing for the Bruins this season:
Steve Alford told me that he's played more zone defense in the first 10 games w/UCLA than he had in last 15 years. No choice.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) December 20, 2013
The problem is that it did not work out well in the end after Duke made adjustments, and it led to a relatively easy second-half effort for the Blue Devils. Katz provided this as a recap to the game:
UCLA's defense was a bit of the story in the first half and definitely in the second but for different reasons.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) December 20, 2013
It is hard to win at this level without playing defense. At this point, the individual efforts are not good enough to handle man, yet the zone has been too easy to figure out after enough possessions.
Therefore, the best solution is to change things up over the course of the game to maintain confusion on the court.
Alford has to utilize his players in a way that can help get wins, and the best thing to do is to keep the opponent on its toes. As long as the communication is good between all of the players, this strategy should help overcome a big weakness for the remainder of the season.
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