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UCLA Basketball Azusa Pacific Game Thoughts: Powell and Looney Look Great, Lots of Questions Marks After That

And so it begins. The Bruins took the floor at Pauley with effectively six new rotation players. They came away with a 27 point win. Powell and Looney were solid, but there are lots of questions marks. Bench strength is the biggest one.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Many of us were frustrated with the cupcake OOC last year, but THAT team with six returners led by Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Norman Powell, dispatched their early opponents with relative ease. From the beginning you knew they wanted to be a running team, and they executed that mission well. On the other hand, they weren't going to sweat out the little things like defense and rebounding, and they wouldn't get a marquis win until the championship of the PAC-12 tournament.

Not so much last night.

I had a figure in mind before the game. They had to win by 25 in order to avoid a thread and post-game blood bath.  They won by 27.  Should they have won by 45?  Sure. APU is that bad, perhaps the worst team to play in Pauley since I've been in LA, but as DC pointed out, the starters could have done that by themselves. Depth is an issue -- look at at the plus/minus.

I'm not going to be too hard on them. There were bound to be jitters when six of your nine scholarship players never or hardly played in front of fans in Pauley, and two of them are starters. Steve Alford and Kevon Looney talk about that in their post-game pressers.

Before I answer the questions I laid out in the game preview, here are some general observations:

  • I don't think we can draw many firm conclusions about rotations, minutes distribution, and who plays 2, 3 or 4 at any one time against an APU team that is so small and lacking in skill.
    The one exception to the above is that Parker and Welsh split the center 23/17, and I don't see them playing together.
  • They started off trying to run at the beginning of each half, but each time settled into a half-court game.  The post-play looked good -- Tony and Thomas both did a good job passing, but SAlford said the mix wasn't intentional. Looney and Hamilton, as newbies, didn't try to push it.
  • There was very little zone. Sure this was APU, but you expected the team to practice it. I noticed it mainly when Welsh was in. I thought the perimeter was good -- no empty spaces like last year, but the back line was too slow to rotate to help the middle, and Welsh let small guys get in under him.
  • I love Kevon Looney's body control, and I think those shots will start to fall as he gets more comfortable. He just might have to be a "doing everything" guy this year on a team where scoring does seem to be a problem, and both Tony and Thomas have issues keeping their men off the boards (APU has 20 offensive rebounds). Bail seemed like the most likely candidate to help on the boards, moving Kevon down to the 3 with Tony at center. Kevon didn't handle the ball or initiate the break as anticipated.
  • Norman led the team with 21 points, 10-10 at the line, 7 rebounds and 3 steals.

Here were the questions I had going into the game:

  1. Is Isaac Hamilton an upper-PAC-12 level scorer? Can he also be a play-maker and defender? Isaac had only 4 points on 2-6 shooting, and his dribble appeared to be unsteady. He did lead the team in assists with 6, and his defense was terrific. So much for selfishness criticism.This was APU, so I'm not going to say Hamilton is lock-down or the team's best defender, but I liked the way he helped out, and still rotated back to his man when the ball moved.  I haven't seen that at UCLA for five years. Nevertheless, Isaac needs to score --he can't be this tentative and mellow. If he can't score in the long run, then I could see Bail cracking the lineup.
  2. Can Thomas Welsh run up and down the court at an adequate pace? Welsh's stride looked good, but he's just not mobile enough to cover his man or rotate in the zone. I saw him boxing out -- it's great that he knows what to do, but he gets beat too often. Thomas was visibly angry with himself -- I like the self recognition. Those short jumper will eventually fall -- his form is pretty, but I don't see him as the x-factor I hoped for in my season previews.
  3. Does Steve Alford use a "big" rotation? Parker/Welsh on the floor at the same time will be rare if ever, but we did see lots of Looney/Bail and a little Looney/Golomon.
  4. Is there a good balance between running and feeding it into the post? Probably more then SAflord would like. Tony ended with 16 points against midgets, but he always had a post-up game and it looks to be improved -- he finished better. Welsh had good vision reversing it to the open man on the arc (which we couldn't convert). Tony made a nice back door pass to Bryce from the top of the key. Tony obviously improved his foul shooting and passing, and had only one foul, but he will never box out at UCLA.
  5. Are Noah Allen and Wannah Bail ready to give significant minutes? They got 15 and 14 minutes respectively, and generally acquitted themselves well. Bail was a monster on the offensive glass but can't finish -- not sure that improves.  Noah will get significant minutes off the bench.  Bail is the only hope for a big lineup:  Bail, Looney and Parker. He didn't look as lost, but I'm not sure he's ready for primetime.
  6. Is Bryce under control? Who handles the ball most? Bryce will be the main playmaker this year. He had two hot-dog style turnovers and left his man wide-open at least twice that I could see.  Bryce is Bryce, but I don't think he did anything intellectually stupid compared to last year -- like dribbling around the baseline.
  7. Can Gyorgy Golomon contribute this year? Can he play the 3? Golomon had the only positive plus/minus from the bench, but I think it was because he played the 3 for long stretches (total of 11 minutes) with the starters. He may be too rail thin for the PAC-12. I actually wanted to see him jack-it-up Euro-style like Vlade Divac, but he is way too tentative right now. These may have been exhibition trial minutes only-- let's see.