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UCLA Basketball: Bruins Go 1-2 in B4A, Finish in 7th Place

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UCLA went 1-2 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. #2 Wisconsin won it all, and the Bruins finished in seventh. Is that the right hoops world order?

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Roy William sat his starters for four minutes after their first round loss to Butler, and UCLA was able to go up 18-11.  UNC went on a run shortly after their normal starters came in, and really never looked back. Despite a short run by the Bruins, the game was truly over when Kevon Looney picked up his fourth foul in the Bruins' first possession of the second half.  Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton had awful games: Hamilton as 0-6 from the field with 7 turnovers against 1 assist while Bryce 3-10 with 6 TO's and 3 assists. It was actually worse than that - I'll get back to the North Carolina game.  Meanwhile, Roy Williams, now infamous for the "paper-class scandal" must have said all the right things before the game, and followed it up with action. Benchings due to on-the-floor play have been rare at UCLA over the past two coaches.

The Bruins came back last night against UAB to finish in seventh place for the tournament. They had to win to avoid an early season crisis, and get rejected out of hand by the Selection Committee in a likely scenario where UCLA is a bubble team in March.

Isaac Hamilton got a measure of redemption going 8-12 including 5-8 from three for 21 points with 3 assists against 2 TO's. Steve Alford even changed up the rotations going first to Welsh, then Golomon second, then Allen and finally Bail after the game was already in the bag. Welsh responded with 12 points and 6 rebounds (in 23 minutes vs Parker's 17 -- he ultimately fouled out). Norman Powell got off to a slow start but finished with 17 points. You had to wonder at the beginning if there was lingering resentment from the previous night. Norman and Bryce appeared to have words at one point Thursday night -- or maybe lack of them is more appropriate. The Bruins won 88-76 (up by as many as 22).

In the season preview, I had the Bruins going 2-1 in the B4A: a win vs. Oklahoma, a loss to UNC and a loser's bracket win. They went 1-2. What happened? That Oklahoma game was eminently winnable. The foul shooting was horrendous and both Parker and Powell got into foul trouble. The zone defense did sag too much and was soft at the guard spots against a team that shot 38 three-pointers, but if the 12 missed free throws didn't do it, then the game was over when Norman got his fourth foul. That said, I don't believe in moral victories, but I also can't say anything to the effect: good teams have to win games like this. Who said this was a good team? Don't get me wrong, I still believe they'll be in a dogfight for second place in the PAC-12 and get 20 wins. They're 5-2; three nonconference cupcakes and ten easy PAC-12 wins, and they're at 18 wins already. I wish I could take back the Sweet 16 prediction, but that's mostly about the crummy seeding they're going to get.

I can see UCLA in the top 20-25, but they don't have the horses to compete with a top 15 (arbitrarily) team. They are going to lose games - three of them possibly badly.

That just isn't our definition of good here. Can anything be done (between the lines) or are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? That's a bit dramatic, but the point is that there are no good choices. There is some tinkering to do, but mostly, improvement will have to come from growth in Looney first and Hamilton second. I love Norman, and look forward to his solid play, but I don't think he's the growth answer. I talked about looking for scoring in the previews, and what I see now is one star, four role players, and a questionable bench. The star has a way to go offensively.

No choices.  Let's start with Bryce and Isaac. I wouldn't use selfishness as an adjective. Maybe hero-ball, but not selfishness. Bryce did jack up threes from beyond NBA distance in the second half of the Oklahoma game, seem to revert to the old tendencies of forcing ill-advised penetration in the lane and the baseline and both Bryce and Isaac had a particularly ugly second half vs. North Carolina, but I sense that both of them looked at the lack of offense and try to do too much. Of course that's not going to work, and it's up to the coach keep them playing within the team.

Poor Norman -- he's in a rough spot.  I don't know if he really wants to be a leader, but if he did, it wouldn't be easy with the Coach's son having the ball in his hand all the time.

There are two conflicts (again speaking about the action between the lines):  Bryce is not good defender, but he's the point guard plus the leading scorer at the same time. He has to be on the court because there is no one else competent to play point guard, and he's the best shooter who happens to have the ball in hands all the time because he is the only point guard. We've debated how the situation arose, and obviously that debate will continue, but right now -- no choices.

If I'm going to do anything, its stop the hockey line substitution pattern (thanks Nestor). It looked like it Alford discontinued it against North Carolina, and it also looked like he promoted Golomon at the expense of Bail. As I said above, there were other rotation changes against UAB as well.

I've come to think that individually, Welsh, Allen, Golomon and Bail might not be so bad playing with the starters -- and it would be fairer to them. Again, what choice is there? Just minimize the exposure by using one-at-a-time. There's a way to feather the rotations to get there. The starters are going to get a lot of minutes and tire out.  It showed against North Carolina, but I'm not worrying about the PAC-12 tournament and beyond right now.

Using big rotations may further help ease the floor time pain. I laughed these off before, and I'm not jumping back on the Welsh bandwagon, but I would try the big rotations for a few minutes at a time. Put Golomon or Welsh in for a guard, and go with a two guard lineup. It's simply a case of doing something that's better than the hockey-line or partial hockey-line. Again -- no choices.

I'm not wedded to Hamilton starting, but he showed so much pride last night that I'm going to defer thinking about putting him on the bench. The drop-off is just too big.

Will this team improve? I think Kevon Looney will on offense. Those layups are going to fall, and the foul shooting will improve -- it had better because he's going to go to the line A LOT.

Isaac Hamilton came back strong against UAB -- he showed pride.  Of course, he has to prove it against a team that is not a mid-major.

It's going to get worse before it gets better.  Kentucky will look like a bad intramural game, and although I believe Gonzaga is over-hyped, it's probably a loss at home.  The Colorado/Utah road trip is the next manageable challenge, but it might also be the next crisis point.