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UCLA Basketball: Week 5 Hoops Q&A -- Post-Gonzaga Edition

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While the Bruins try to pick up the pieces after the Gonzaga loss, we try to explain the inexplicable.

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1) Is the new anti-Bruin strategy to stop Looney?

chrissorr: I saw it twice now, and it worked. I have to believe Few took notes from the UCR tape. Gonzaga was incredibly brazen: bottle up the middle and swat at Looney and Parker, and then go at Looney on offense.

This is a tough one. We've both been saying, contrary to the popular paradigm, the strength of the Bruins is the Looney/Parker interior punch.

Looney's inability to stop Wiltjer and Parker's disappearance together is the issue that depressed me most about the Gonzaga game. They swift-boated us.

DCBruins: On defense Looney wasn't ready for a sophisticated offensive force like Wiltjer.  Wiltjer can do it all on offense and is a bit unusual for a 4.  I am not too worried about it but it shows why you need to work on man against the cupcakes.

On offense, I disagree a bit.  Looney does not know how to play the low post and he looks bad when he does that.  It is a skill and starting the game there for him does not work well.  However, I like Looney at the high post.  He can drive pass and crash the offense glass from there.  Looney led us in assists against Gonzaga.  All three guards are good at the open three.  I would have a simple rule on half-court offense.  Looney or Parker touch the ball on every possession that is not a break.

2.  UCLA has been outscored in the first half of the last three games.  In the first half of all three games UCLA scored under 30 and in the second half over 40.  What if anything does this mean?

DCBruins: I am not sure what it all means but let's throw out a few possibilities.  The bench plays more in the first half and in the second half guys like Kevon Looney and Bryce Alford rarely come out.  In the first half Steve Alford is very cautious with guys with two fouls leading to even more bench time.

Team's recently have game planned for us which has made a difference in the first half when the games are slower.  The faster pace of late games where one team is trying to catch up seems to favor us a bit.  Maybe we have adjusted in the second half as well.

Bryce Alford looks to shoot more in the second half and pass more in the first half.  I don't think this is a reason but I can't deny it as a fact.

chrissorr: Definitely the bench playing. I would add nerves and gaining a sense of urgency when they are down at the half. Nerves had been a big thing with this team particularly Hamilton, Looney and Welsh.

3) The zone is too lax to protect the perimeter, the team is foul-prone and without bench help and Gonzaga went at Looney successfully. Now what do you do on defense?

chrissorr: Usually, rebounding and defense go hand-in-hand. It's not just the reach with Looney -- he clearly wants the rebound (not sure he gets them by boxing out). I wouldn't go so far as to say Looney is not a good defender, and Wiltjer certainly is not what we've come to call an "athlete." I don't know if Gonzaga saw something in the tape or they just wanted him to pick up fouls. Either way, he has to get better. There is no choice.

Same goes for Powell. He never was an Arron Afflalo, and Jordan Adams exceeded him for one season, but we always assumed he has the physical tools and the most desire on this team to play defense. I postulate that some combination of being saved for offense by the coach, not drawing the best player, getting screwed up by the other perimeter players' bad habits and holding on to the preseason theory that he is the number one option all add up to less than stellar man defense.

That zone was so bad against Gonzaga that I'd like to say ditch it, but it's not practical. Move towards 70-30 man vs. zone, use the ¾ press if for no other reason than it is a motivator and dumb the zone down, i.e., play like a 7thgrader would - stay close to your spot. Of course it all depends on the team. Kentucky is athletic and they bang of the boards, but they are not the greatest perimeter shooters. Nothing is going to work against them, but since we have to show up, use a lot of packed in zone.

DCBruins: To me, we lost the Gonzaga game on offense more than defense.  Our offense was ugly.  On defense, you can see the team is much better on defense when Parker is in the game.  Parker is rebounding well and does a good job clogging up the middle.  Yes a real good offensive team like Gonzaga is going to kill our zone.  But I am not sure Utah or Arizona will.  As you mention it seems like a better chance against Kentucky.  The zone also makes Welsh a better defender and shot block threat.

I always think it is a good idea to change up the defenses to confuse teams.  Gonzaga was probably the best coached offensive team we are going to play.  We will play other more individually talented teams but I am not sure we will play one that good in half court team offense again.  I am less worried about our defense than our half-court offense.

4.  Steve Alford stated his motion offense does not need a point guard.  Discuss.

DCBruins: Last year the offense stalled when point guard Kyle Anderson was out of the game.  In the final game against Florida, Steve Alford arguably kept Kyle on the bench too long while Florida put the game out of reach.  That said, when Kyle was in the game the UCLA offense looked very good.  Even guys like Travis Wear were passing better.

This year Bryce is ranked eighth in the nation in assists but has more turnovers than assists in the losses.  I think this argues that Steve Alford's offense needs a point guard.  Against bad/mediocre teams Bryce is up to the task and we win.  Against good teams, he isn't and we lose.

chrissorr: I think in theory you don't for motion offenses including the triangle on the pros. This team doesn't seem to have motion, and the guards are shoot-first. These guys seem all untrained - like they stepped on to Pauley directly from the playground. The two wise souls from last year, Kyle and Jordan, kept it together (plus lots of cupcakes). College ball is so lacking in leadership that you should always have a good point guard. Doesn't necessarily have to be a pass-only, but if he's going to score, then he'd better score all the time and mainly by beating his man. Larry Drew could actually do that (late season).

I don't agree with something I read recently, that Alford totally abandoned an offense for AAU-style to lure recruits, but rather I believe there's been an incredible level of roster mismanagement that makes it look that way.

5) What do you think about the toxic locker room theory?

chrissorr: I have seen with my own eyes some dissatisfaction expressed by Powell and Parker. I haven't seen anything beyond the usual when you are losing. It is possible that the internet pundits are stirring things up, or jumping to conclusions they shouldn't jump to.  It's all circumstantial evidence at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised. We've said since the season previews that the team might be a meltdown waiting to happen: lose too many games while Bryce becomes the leading scorer and you've got a bad locker room recipe especially if there are no consequences for Bryce from his father. On the other hand, Bryce seems to dial it back after those binge-shooting outings.

DCBruins: There may be a toxic atmosphere but keep in mind Powell is not exactly a smiley kid.  His UCLA promo may be the worst I have ever seen.  And to be clear, I am not knocking Powell it is just his personality.  Tony also gets mad at himself a lot.  Honestly I am more concerned about Isaac and Looney.  Isaac stopped passing in the second half.  Isaac started the season over passing and was playing like I-better-not-pass-the-ball-or-I-won't-get-it-back against Gonzaga.  If the team loses five in a row, then this will be a big worry.   Ask this question after the first weekend in the PAC 12.