UCLA took on its second formidable opponent on Thursday night and suffered its second loss of the season.
Facing No. 8 Duke in Madison Square Garden, the Bruins lost 80-63 in a game that was a tale of two halves, much like their first loss of the season to Missouri.
A disheartening trend is revealing itself. Against tougher opponents, UCLA fares well in the first half and then comes undone in the second half, faltering under the pressure of being down.
At the half against Duke, the Bruins were tied at 37 with the Blue Devils, going blow for blow with one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation (1st half: UCLA: 6-for-10; Duke: 6-for-18).
Momentum was split between the two teams at halftime. Although Duke was ranked much higher than the Bruins, it was evident that both teams were similarly talented and that both teams had a chance to win the game.
However, from very early on in the second half, it was apparent that UCLA wouldn’t be able to sustain another half against a top team like Duke, and the Blue Devils were going to pull off the prime-time matchup.
With 16:22 to play, David Wear—who had a season-high 16 points with four threes—knocked down a jumper on an assist from Kyle Anderson that evened the score at 45.
However, following that basket, the Bruins came undone.
Anderson then committed a series of costly turnovers and UCLA lost its composure. Although the 6’9” point guard would eventually find his groove late in the second half, Anderson committed a career-high six turnovers on the night against seven assists.
So, what should the Bruins make of their shortcomings against top-tier opponents?
Nonconference matchups like Thursday night’s contest can be helpful or harmful depending on how a team responds to the result. It’s either a learning experience or a blow to team morale, variable upon UCLA’s determinedness to make the necessary improvements to fortify themselves into a team that can win the type of games they have lost.
|UCLA vs. Tough Opponents|
|1st Half FG%||1st Half 3P FG%||1st Half Points For||1st Half Points Allowed||2nd Half FG%||2nd Half 3P FG%||2nd Half Points For||2nd Half Points Against|
|vs. Duke||42.5% (14-31)||60.0% (6-10)||37||37||34.5% (10-29)||16.7% (2-12)||26||43|
|vs. Missouri||50.0% (15-30)||41.7% (5-12)||43||35||25.8% (8-31)||0.0% (0-8)||28||45|
What’s concerning for the Bruins moving forward is their inability to play a full 40 minutes against tough opponents.
As you can see in the table above, UCLA got off to a great start against Missouri and Duke but dropped off substantially in the second half.
How can they rectify this? Patience and composure.
In both of their losses this season, UCLA has fretfully scrambled to score when down in the last 10 minutes of the game, often settling for desperate shots instead of tactfully chipping away at the deficit.
The Bruins are more than capable of beating the best teams in the nation, but they have to play like the premier team they are for the duration of the game in order to win the games that matter.
Otherwise, they’ll remain the capable-but-ineffective team they’ve proven to be so far.