To quote John Cleese: “And now for something completely different.” A Steve Alford-coached UCLA team won with their defense.
After two teams shot better than 48 percent against UCLA in Kansas City, Mo., head coach Steve Alford was most interested in seeing defensive growth when the Bruins returned to Pauley Pavilion for a four-game homestand.
The coach got that Wednesday against Cal State Bakersfield and needed every bit of it as UCLA overcame a frigid shooting night to beat the Roadrunners 75-66.
The Bruins (6-1) made just two of their 17 3-point attempts but held Bakersfield to 29.9 percent shooting. It was the first time a UCLA opponent shot less than 30 percent from the field since Cal State Northridge’s 17-for-58 performance on Nov. 29, 2015.
After the game, Steve Alford said:
“I told the team that we showed growth defensively. Coming back from Kansas City that was probably our glaring weakness and that shouldn’t be because we should not be bad defensively. We guarded UC Irvine well and I thought we guarded well again tonight. We held them to 29 percent shooting so we did a lot of good things tonight...very pleased with the way we play defensively because we won the game because of that and that’s the brightest part....The other thing that I really liked is that I think three weeks ago we lose this game because so much of what our defensive was about three weeks ago was how we were doing offensively. And tonight, for how bad we were doing offensively at times, our defense was consistently pretty good. And that’s a positive that’s growth defensively.”
For what it is worth, I think the Interior defense has been really good the last two games. Just like the UCI game, the three point or perimeter defense was bad in the first half:
Six of the Bakersfield’s 10 made field goals during the first half came from 3-point range to help the Roadrunners (4-4) build a nine-point lead 10 minutes into the game.
Jarkel Joiner led Bakersfield with 20 points, making a career-high four 3-pointers. Damiyne Durham added 15 points, also making four 3s.
The Bruins opened the second half on a 9-1 run, extending their lead to 38-28. The Roadrunners (4-4) missed their first eight shots and went 4 of 22 from 3-point range after making six 3s in the first half.
For the first time this year, the LA Times focused on the court. They did remain consistent in focusing on the negative, this time, it was the poor offense.
UCLA coach Steve Alford sounded this week as if he was describing a game for preschoolers when he talked about the young Bruins learning the difference between “good shot, bad shot.”
The Bruins resembled a bunch of stubborn 4-year-olds in the first half Wednesday night, recognizing only the latter.
UCLA’s offense featured mostly one-on-one play, with dribble penetration and pull-up jumpers galore but little ball movement against a defense that applied continual pressure. Alford checked with assistant coaches during the second media timeout and was informed the team did not have its first assist, something it would not log for nearly 11 1/2 minutes.
UCLA exceeded the five assists it had in the first half in the first 71/2 minutes of the second half, allowing the Bruins (6-1) to pull away during a game that was in doubt at halftime.
The Associated Press covered the terrible three-point shooting in a funny way:
UCLA went 2 of 17 from 3-point range, an unusually poor performance for the Bruins. Even stranger were the players who made 3s: big men Welsh and Alex Olesinski, which drew a laugh from Alford's wife Tanya after the game. ''We airballed two, I think we hit the side of the backboard on one,'' her husband said, smiling.
Aaron Holiday explained it as follows:
“We just needed to settle in, which we did toward the end of the first half when we started moving the ball in. It obviously wasn’t an assist because we didn’t pass the ball well in the first half and we got it going in the second half.”
It was nice to win with defense and that is a positive sign. On the other hand, it is worth noting what the Daily Bruin pointed out:
The Bruins have also not been able to dominate their lesser-heralded opponents.
Despite facing the likes of Central Arkansas, South Carolina State and UC Irvine, UCLA has yet to hold a double-digit lead at halftime.