After the game, Steve Alford said he felt better after the loss to Gonzaga then he did after the UCR win. Why? Well, he didn't think it was such a bad start. They just didn't make shots in the first half, but played steady afterwards against an experienced team. He was encouraged.
Reading between the lines, he's saying: they are what they are -- at least they didn't give up or lose by 25.
1) Gonzaga was always in control. They don't have overwhelming talent, so the Bruins can get on the positive side of the ebb-and-flow here and there, but I suspect the relaxed Zags would have played a different game if they were seriously threatened.
2) As opposed to encouraged, I'm discouraged because the Bruins aren't going to rise for a whole game and overcome their fatal flaws with their talent. That said, it's true -- they are what they are. They're not going to beat a good team: they just have to win the PAC-12 games they're supposed to win. Not an exciting message!
Alford may wish he opted for the steady, cupcake diet now. UCLA (8-3) began its five-game December blitzkrieg of top-flight teams with an 87-74 loss to No. 9 Gonzaga (9-1) on Saturday - its third loss to a quality opponent in three tries this season, after losses in both of their measuring-stick matchups in the Bahamas.
Gonzaga went on to win, 87-74, another non-surprise in UCLA's nonconference schedule that has gone exactly as the oddsmakers have predicted. The Bruins have beaten up on mid-majors but are running out of chances for a signature nonconference win.
Helfand went on to say:
Little about this team is a mystery. The cavalry on the bench is not coming to provide a spark or a different look. The chance of a lineup change is minimal. Any growth must come from a short rotation of players.
That's it. He got it.
The fatal flaws I mentioned were made so obvious last night.:
- No help from the bench.
- The perimeter is too shaky on offense and defense. Sure they can score. Bryce can shoot. Hamilton had a fire lit under him in the second half (UAB was the only other time), and recognized Gonzaga was giving him the lane to the basket. Norman can also take his man to the whole and occasionally hit the three. However, none of the three are secure with the ball in their hands, and they appear to be playing individual games.
- The defense was soft across the board last night. Gonzaga successfully went straight at Looney in the first half, and when the Bruins went into a zone, the Zags lit it up from the perimeter. Should they stay in man? Four players had four fouls last night though some of that was intentional fouling at the end. I'd advocate man, but the answer is going to have to come against the PAC-12. Can your best players stay on the court against somewhat lesser talents in the conference?
Where I was really discouraged this time was that Looney couldn't defend Wiltjer, and Parker was not much of a factor. The Bruin strength was negated. If you're not worried about the perimeter at all, then I guess that's easy to do.
Is there a silver lining? Let me dig very, very deep:
- Most reporters made a point of saying that UCLA also lost the battle of the boards which they mainly were winning, even in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Gonzaga had 34 to UCLA's 30, but 15 of Gonzaga's rebounds went to guards mainly on long rebounds, and UCLA led in offensive rebounds 13-7. Once caveat: Gonzaga shot 59% so to some extent, there weren't defensive rebounds to get.
- The Bruins played with intensity in the second half, particularly in the last minutes. Give Gonzaga credit - they didn't let the Bruins dig out of the first half hole although the second half was virtually even.
The Bruins can't beat a very good team. They have talent in the first five, but it's not enough to overcome the sloppy, uninspired play and weak bench. Is it enough for second or third in the PAC-12. We'll be looking at that in upcoming posts.