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UCLA Basketball: Bruins Lose Third In A Row, 56-50 to Alabama

Is this the new normal? Brick and turn it over for the entire first half? The Bruins shot 20% in the first half, and still Alabama gave them a shot to win in the end, but Bryce Alford misses two threes.

Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Alford credited Alabama's defense. I didn't see it -- all the issues were unforced. Steely Dan would love him -- Deacon Blues: have a grandiose name when you lose (as opposed to Crimson Tide when you win).

Alabama is a bad offensive team. Ricky Tarrant, averaging 12.4 points per game until he faced the Bruins, went off for 18 points in the first half, 24 for the game (box score). Twenty four of Alabama's 56.  Worst of all, his late penetration drew foul after foul -- including the fifth on Looney. Who was covering him then? Bryce Alford.  Why? And by the way, Steve Alford played no zone against a team that shot 33% for the game while Parker and Looney sat for extended minutes in foul trouble.

I'll get back to the defense, but that wasn't the problem. The Bruins shot 20% in the first half, scoring only 18 points in the first half. It's a trend now. They scored 7 in the first half against Kentucky along with turnover after turnover.  They had eighteen turnovers against Alabama. Isaac Hamilton had 7 by himself including 3 in the final minutes with the Bruins tied or within one basket. It actually looked like Hamilton was getting benched in the first half for Noah Allen, but Norman Powell had to go to the bench with a possible dislocated thumb.

If Alabama was a good team, they would have broken it open against a cold Bruin team who missed 12 shots in a row at one point, and we wouldn't have to talk about the second half at all.

Bryce Alford finally had his chance to really be the hero. He missed a wide open three with 33 seconds, and another forced one -- all air -- with 16 seconds left and a chance to tie. Why not look for a good shot with 16 seconds left? Of course the whole word knew Steve Alford's son was going to take those two shots. The first once made sense with Looney out; the second one was wild. There's your team discipline and coaching. Why not call a timeout?

Norman Powell was not a factor on offense or defense (he did pick up his D in the second half). He had three points on 1-8 shooting. Much of Tarrant's first half damage came on Norman. One of the typical moments of this season came in transition mid-first half off a turnover: Hamilton was ahead of Powell, but Norman kept it, and ultimately lost control of the ball for another turnover. Norman later dislocated his thumb.

On defense, the Bruins came out with Hamilton on Randolph and Powell on Tarrant. The game saw Alford, Hamilton and Powell switch on Tarrant and Randolph, but Hamilton actually contained both guards. Randolph scored 5 in the first half, and 6 of his ultimate 15 points came at the line in the final 1:30.

I can't necessarily fault Alford for going all man. The zone has been horrendous -- lazier than the man, and has not solved the bench problems.  Yet, 20/20 hindsight is legitimate when the coach is so highly paid. In the long stretch in the second half with Parker and Looney on the bench with foul trouble, and Allen, Golomon and Welsh in together, why not go zone and why not go zone to protect Looney? The two biggest inflection points in the game were Looney picking up his second foul at 17:26 of the first half and his fourth foul at 9:43 of the second half.

UCLA seemed to start out right. The first play of the game was the inverted lob from Tony to Norman -- a play they've run successfully since last season. Tony touched the ball on four of the first five possessions, but the seeds of another first half crumbling started to show as the Bruins could not hit a shot. Then disaster struck at 17:26 when Kevon picked up his second foul -- on the offensive end! He went to the bench followed by Parker at his usual time around 15:30. Alabama stretched the lead to 11-3 with Golomon and Welsh in the game. It started to look like another Kentucky debacle with the Bruins missing 12 shots in a row, but fortunately Alabama had no answer other than Tarrant.

The Bruins couldn't even feed Parker down low because they couldn't get the ball into the offense without turning it over. When Looney came back the Bruins went into a ¾ trap with Looney up top, and that seemed to stem the bleeding. UCLA was lucky to go into halftime trailing only 29-18.

UCLA seemingly came out for the second half trying to get back to the playbook: speed-it-up, get Tony and Kevon touches, and make open looks. Isaac Hamilton came out on fire, scoring eight of the Bruins ten first points bringing the Bruins within two, 27-29.

Looney got his third foul called at 19:18 and his fourth at 9:43. Alford left him in after the third foul, and it looked like he would go exclusively with the starters the rest of the way, but Parker picked up another foul and all five starters wouldn't come back until 5:50.

Meanwhile, the Bruins broke down again. Hamilton and Alford began forcing shots, and Alabama pulled away again. Fortunately, Tony Parker came alive. He got his first two points of the game at 14:30 -- it took that long to go into him again after the opening couple of plays of the half. He finished with 10 points as UCLA repeatedly went back to him -- until he picked up his fourth foul. It didn't hurt that Jimmie Taylor had picked up his fourth foul.

Alabama obliged the Bruins by continuing to brick, and despite a rash of unforced turnovers, particularly by Hamilton, the score was tied at 48-48. Tarrant was able to penetrate on Bryce repeatedly, drawing fouls including the fatal fifth on Looney. Still, UCLA had the chance to take the lead and/or tie twice, but Bryce missed two threes.

Final thoughts:

  • There's no way to win with three one-dimensional guards playing 29-39 minutes each. Of course there is no choice. The bench had two points. And therein lies the season.
  • Bryce and Isaac both are too shaky to handling the ball, and Norman should be focusing on defense. Powell dislocated him thumb, but his play was ugly before then too.
  • Allen played 15 solid if pedestrian minutes. Golomon is the new Bail. Welsh had the worst play of the game (outside of the turnovers). A tiny little shove by Jimmie Taylor, and Taylor found himself wide open under the rim with an effortless rebound in his hand and an ensuing dunk.
  • With Bail gone, Golomon useless and Looney in foul trouble, why not give Parker and Welsh a shot together again (they played together during the Kentucky game)?
  • Making shots helps. You can point to many reasons for this loss: turnovers, fouls, two missed game winners /tiers in 17 seconds, offensive scheme breakdown, but the number one reason is going 20% from the field in the first half. Spot a competent team enough points and they'll win despite themselves. And UCLA is supposed to be a good offensive team! It's tiresome: the nerves and the eventual breakdown in the offense.
  • Washington and Cal both went down to cupcakes tonight. Still, I don't see the way forward -- I know it doesn't involve the guards. My season previews were, in part, predicated on a bad PAC-12, but I think there are five teams that can beat Alabama. I don't know how they get into the Tournament except to finish second in the PAC-12.