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UCLA Basketball: Game Thoughts for Montana State

Everyone one scores as the Bruins break the game open by mid-first half, and then route MSU, 113-78.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Bruins win by more than 25 against a cupcake?  Check.

Did Hamilton score more points this outing? Check.  Isaac scored 15 (check stats here). While he was only the fourth leading scorer, 11 came in the first half during the back-breaking run including back-to-back threes ( story).  More impressive to me was his man defense on Marcus Colbert who scored six points in three minutes on Bryce Alford and drove him out of the game with foul trouble.

Did the Bruins come out nervous again? Half-check. Steve Alford made sure they came out running, and would stay up-tempo the whole game. There were only five first half turnovers, but the Bruins came out cold and let Montana St. go up 8-5 (Bryce's man defense on Colbert had something to do with this as well). Norman Powell started the game 0-6, but eventually went on to score 25.

Did the Bruins improve over last game? Check. Salford wanted his team to play up-tempo, and even thought the start was rocky, they kept their focus. The first half saw Looney bring the ball up off the rebound four times, and the team averaged 11 seconds per play during the half. The Bruins had 25 assists against 11 turnovers led by Bryce's 12.

So the Bruins surpassed my basic expectations for the game, but it's hard to take away much from a game that lasted only ten minutes -- Montana St. was worse than Azusa Pacific.  Salford hasn't shortened the rotations, although the early foul trouble may have changed his plans. He did, however, played zone for perhaps half the game.  As the LA Times says, a tough test awaits. Coastal Carolina is a tournament team that returns four starters and is projected to win the Big South this year.  The Bruins can't afford to spot them a lead with a slow start.

That said -- here's a more in-depth look:

  • Before garbage time and after Bryce went out with two fouls, the man defense looked good.  Isaac is the real deal in man, and the bigs are able to cover up penetration.  There will be a lot of zone -- we saw it this time even against a cupcake. Unless there's a no-offense guard for Bryce to play, zone is the best alternative especially if you are going to run up-tempo with suspicious bench strength.  We saw an interesting 1-3-1 zone with Kevon Looney at the top for one or two plays (and Bryce at the bottom -- hidden).
  • After the cold start, the offense looked good with impressive outside shooting (50% from 3 in the first half), nice tempo and lots of assists to open men. Bryce played under control.  I did see one particularly bad play at around the six minute mark when he drove deep into a crowd, wound up under the basket, and tried to pass back to Tony Parker who wasn't ready.
  • The free throw percentage is worrisome -- 65% for the game. Kevon Looney battles under the boards and drives into the paint so he will be fouled. He was 11-17 last night.  If he hits his FT's, he may be the leading scorer this season, and on the other hand, if he doesn't, there will be a lot of wasted trips this season.
  • Salford wasn't ready to shorten his rotations yet although GG Golomon may be falling off since all his minutes came in garbage time at the end of both halves.  DCBruins had several questions about the bench.  Noah Allen played 20 mistake-free, solid minutes.  Wannah Bail played 17 minutes, and did a good job clogging the middle, but is still a bit lost in the open court. Thomas Welsh had 14 points in 13 minutes.
  • More on Thomas Welsh.  The internets are already calling for Thomas to start over Parker. I like Welsh -- he was my number one x-factor for the season, but only two of his minutes came while there was still a game going.  Twelve points came in garbage time against an inferior opponent.  Granted Tony didn't shine for more than a handful of plays, but I'm far from convinced that Thomas can hang in a game with PAC-12 centers this year.
  • The PAC-12 refs still suck. Seven mostly ticky-tack fouls called in the first four minutes.