Well part one of the season is over and it did not end the way Steve Alford wanted.
It all felt familiar. The first half Wednesday was sluggish and careless. The UCLA basketball team trailed by eight points to an underdog - and not just any underdog. This was UC Riverside, the team picked to finish last in the Big West in the conference's preseason media poll.
And, for the second halftime in a row, UCLA Coach Steve Alford said he "wasn't pleased. Again."
And again, UCLA avoided disaster with an efficient second half in a 77-66 win over UC Riverside at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA (8-2) has avoided drama in the early-season slate. The Bruins have won each game in which they were favored. They've lost both games as an underdog. Only one game was decided by fewer than 10 points.
So yeah, UCLA finished where many (including me) thought in the cupcake and pre-season tournament section of the season. What have we learned? Let's let the player of the game Tony Parker (16 points and 16 rebounds) speak a bit on it:
We did this last year. We have to get better because we don't have such a strong bench this year. Our bench is very young and inexperienced.
Not picking on Tony but is he saying we don't play hard for 40 minutes (like last year) but without Bryce Alford, Tony and Zach Lavine on the bench? Speaking of last year, last year we had a clear cut leader in Kyle Anderson. Who is the leader this year? Steve Alford again:
On playing well only against big-name teams ...
"From a coaching standpoint, you can't do that. It's a lesson our young guys have got to learn. I've put heat on Norman and Bryce; they have to help these other guys and know you don't do that - you don't get up for a Riverside one way and a Gonzaga another way.
Bryce for his part seemed to be looking to pass more early and finished with 8 assists. However, Norman did it with action.
Another slow start had UCLA coach Steve Alford questioning his team's toughness at halftime. He demanded to know who was going to be a leader and bring energy against an upstart UC Riverside team.
Norman Powell answered on both counts, starting a second-half rally with seven straight points on his way to 20 in a 77-66 victory Wednesday night, the Bruins' fourth straight and seventh in a row at home.
"I wanted to provide a spark, so I picked up my defense and my offense," said Powell, the Bruins' lone senior. "It has to come like that from the beginning of the game."
In beating the Highlanders, the Bruins have at least passed the cupcake portion of their schedule without disaster. With No. 9 Gonzaga and No. 1 Kentucky looming next, there are no more chances for UCLA to suffer a bad nonconference loss - the type that would leave an ugly stain on its March Madness resume.
In a tumultuous week of college basketball, passing is a result the Bruins will gladly take. . . .
But an unconvincing win against UC Riverside (5-4) also gives UCLA plenty to worry about to end the calendar year, as well as entering conference play. Last month, the Highlanders lost to Utah 88-42.
The Bruins face the No. 13 Utes in Salt Lake City on Jan. 4.
Part 2 of the season may be a long stretch of five games.