Just past the midway point in Pac-12 play, UCLA is in second place with an 8-3 conference record.
The Bruins have relied upon some key performances and plays to hold their high spot in the conference.
Without Travis Wear’s putback with 5 seconds left in Eugene, UCLA might have left Oregon without a win, and without Norman Powell’s 21-point performance against USC on Feb. 8, the Bruins might not have pulled through against their rival.
As UCLA enters the important final stretch of conference games that will play a big role in its seeding in the NCAA Tournament, here’s a progress report for the Bruins’ starting five.
Strengths: Defending, Drawing Fouls, Second-Half Dominance
Areas for Improvement: Slashing, Shot Selection, Slow Starts
Jordan Adams still leads UCLA in scoring with 16.8 points per game, but his offensive production hasn’t been quite as consistent in conference play as it was during the Bruins’ non-conference schedule.
Part of his inconsistency in Pac-12 play has come from slow starts on the offensive end, which despite strong second-half spurts, have the Bruins usually playing catch-up for the entire game.
As defenses have centered their focus on him, Adams has had fewer open looks and often forces catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Nonetheless, the sophomore guard is still an excellent defender and is very skilled at capitalizing on his accurate free-throw shooting (84.8%) by drawing fouls while attacking the basket.
Strengths: Rebounding, Creating Shots for Teammates, Dynamic Scorer
Areas for Improvement: Defending, Distributing in Late-Game Situations
Anderson’s stat line (15.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.8 APG) speaks to his unique ability almost to do it all on the offensive end.
Although he’s the Bruins’ starting point guard, Anderson leads the team in rebounds, which is vital for the team, considering its void in the frontcourt.
He’s also incredible at creating shooting opportunities for his teammates with nifty passes, and when he decides to shoot it himself, he can score from anywhere on the floor.
However, amid his offensive strengths, Anderson is a subpar defender because of his lanky, 6'9", 230-pound frame.
Additionally, because he’s such a terrific scorer, Anderson tends to hold onto the ball too much in late-game situations, which often leads to costly turnovers, instead of triumph.
Strengths: Jump shot, Shooting Range
Areas for Improvement: Defense, Finishing at the Rim, Driving, Physicality
David Wear has proven this season that he can make a jump shot from practically anywhere on the court with accuracy. He’s even shooting three-pointers at 53.3 percent clip (16-of-30).
However, as impressive as Wear’s jumper has been in the past two seasons, he hasn’t developed much as a player, and you’d hardly recognize that he’s a redshirt senior, if you didn’t have a roster handy.
Wear still isn’t able to provide the physical inside presence that UCLA needs, despite his 6’10”, 230-pound frame, which haunts him on the defensive end and on offense, when attempting to drive to the lane or put in what should be easy buckets at the rim.
Still, Wear’s ability to knock down shots on the perimeter stretches defenses and allows his teammates to find more opportunities at the rim.
Strengths: Jump shot, Shooting in Transition
Areas for Improvement: Rebounding, Offensive Consistency, Tenacity
Although Travis Wear’s impact on UCLA has dropped sharply from his junior season, he still plays an essential role on the team.
His scoring average is down significantly from last season (2012-13: 10.9 PPG, 2013-14: 6.3 PPG), mainly because his style of play doesn’t fit as well into first-year coach Steve Alford’s system as it did former coach Ben Howland’s.
However, as he reminded USC in the Bruins’ recent 10-point victory over the Trojans, he can deliver momentum-swaying offensive spurts that make UCLA hard to beat.
Nonetheless, his rebounding (3.3 RPG) is nowhere near what it should be for a starting forward, and he isn’t as consistent on the offensive end as the Bruins need. Similarly, his tenacity on the court is unpredictable, as he seems to play with a chip on his shoulder in some games and play timidly in others.
Strengths: Driving, Defense, Explosiveness, Finishing in Transition
Areas for Improvement: Perimeter Shooting, Passing
Norman Powell is a wonder to watch when he’s unleashed in the open court.
He, along with freshman guard Zach LaVine, has made some spectacular finishes in transition this season, some of which have made their way into national highlight reels.
Additionally, Powell attacks the basket ferociously and isn’t afraid to dunk on opposing defenders.
However, opposing players will find it hard to return the favor on Powell, as he’s the best defender on the Bruins’ squad and one of the best guards on the defensive end in the Pac-12.
While Powell’s inside game has been excellent this season, his jumper has been very unreliable and his three-point shot has been atrocious all season long (23.9%).
Still, the 6'4" junior guard has the cherished ability to give UCLA a huge boost when it needs it.