Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Evaluating UCLA's defense is harder than piecing together the meaning of life from the shadows running along the wall in Plato's Cave, because nothing is what it seems to be.
It can be exasperating to watch a shooting line of open jump shots and easy layups or dunks allowed over the course of a game.
It is not a trick of perspective or emotion, either. The statistics show that the Bruins allow opponents an effective field-goal percentage of 49 percent, 144th worst in America. They allow opponents to score 70.1 points per game, which ranks 165th.
Those are the shadows jumping and flickering along the wall. They give a man the fantods. The light of day exposes another interpretation of reality.
UCLA has a scoring differential of plus-12.7 points per game (15th best) and plays with the 18th-fastest tempo in college basketball, according to Ken Pomeroy (subscription site).
That means in a game with many possessions, the Bruins are necessarily going to allow more points. But under those conditions, they are among the country's top teams in scoring more points than their opponents—which is the name of the game.
Their defensive efficiency has also come down steadily over the year. Currently it's at 95.2 points per 100 possessions, which is 25th-best overall.
All defensive roads lead to one crucial but immeasurable quality this team must have: the mental will to play hard, not soft.
This was embodied in Saturday's win over USC, when UCLA trailed 31-25 at halftime but outscored the Trojans 48-32 in the second half to win by 10.
"We really wanted to pick up the pace, we wanted to pick up our defensive effort," Norman Powell said afterward in a video posted at UCLABruins.com. "We felt like we came out a little sluggish and soft on the defensive end, so that was the focus at half time, getting aggressive and getting stops."
Later in the same video, Kyle Anderson reinforced Powell's position: "We stepped it up on the defensive end in the second half, which led to better offense coming our way, guys were able to knock down shots."
Hard defense led to effective offense. That is the way it must be.