Steve Alford has left the coach-speak world of clichés in Vegas for the two games of the Continental Tire Tournament. He called the UCLA Bruins’ Thanksgiving Day turkey of a game against Michigan State a “good thing.” Yesterday...well, let’s let Ben Bolch tell it from his story entitled: “Steve Alford’s impassioned lesson fails to translate into a Bruins’ victory as UCLA falls to North Carolina:”
The lead had been lost and it looked like the game might have been too when Steve Alford noisily went about making his points in the timeout huddle.
The UCLA coach tossed his whiteboard to the court. He yelled at his players, never lowering his voice. The message was the same as it had been in the locker room only minutes earlier: The Bruins had to find a way to stand up to one of the nation’s top teams.
Kris Wilkes explained it this way:
“He gave us the answers to the test, as he always says,” sophomore forward Kris Wilkes said of the exchange less than two minutes into the second half, “and we still failed it.”
But Bolch summed it up best:
The top takeaway is a familiar lament for the Bruins going back to last season — their inability to sustain effort. On Thursday night, they were overrun in the first half of a 20-point loss to Michigan State. Less than a day later, it was their struggles in the second half that doomed them to a second consecutive defeat after holding a five-point halftime lead.
I’m not sure this is totally right. I think Michigan State let up or they could have won by 50. But the point is valid for yesterday’s loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels and the first half was different. It featured the Bruins’ best team offense of the season. As Thuc Nhi Nguyen details in the Daily News:
While building a five-point lead at halftime over the No. 7 Tar Heels (6-1), UCLA dished out 10 assists and shot 51.9 percent from the field. Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands had eight assists, matching UCLA’s team total against Michigan State. Hands’ willingness to facilitate the offense through ball movement is “crucial for our offense,” Alford said.
That fact was never more obvious than in the second half when Hands had only one assist. The offense grew stagnant. Players dribbled in circles late into the shot clock. The Bruins shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the second half.
The UCLA website recapped that first half:
UCLA was red hot out of the gate, as four Bruins converted on their first seven shot attempts to build a 15-9 lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers by freshman Coby White pulled the Tar Heels back within striking distance at 20-17, but the Bruins scored 12 of the game’s next 16 points to establish its largest lead of the game at 11. UCLA made 14 of 27 shots (51.9%) in the first half.
Part of the reason was a late night in Vegas. A late night watching tape of the Michigan State debacle. As Thuc Nhi Nguyen explains:
After the 7 p.m. tip on Thursday, the Bruins stayed up until 1 a.m. watching tape from the loss hoping to identify ways to get off to a stronger start. UCLA went down 24-9 to the Spartans.
Cody Riley detailed watching the first 10 minutes getting crushed by Michigan State to prepare for North Carolina this way. Riley said:
It was hard, but at the same time, it was great. We were able to learn a lot of things, and it is also good to see, as a visual. It’s good to see what we did wrong and see how we can improve, instead of just hearing it. So, that was great.
While part of the problem is UCLA’s effort level being constant, North Carolina also had something to do with the crappy second half. Steve Alford analyzed North Carolina’s second half change:
The one thing they did, they denied more. They cranked up their pressure and they switched the ball screens. We immediately started working on that out of timeouts and guys can’t figure out, one of how you’re going to get open and then two how you’ve got to continue to go downhill on ball screens and get the ball to the post. We just couldn’t do that in the second half.
Let’s close with some numbers from Sam Connon of the Daily Bruin:
UCLA shot 51.9 percent from the field and 76.5 percent from the charity stripe in the first, but coach Steve Alford saw those marks drop to 37.5 and 33.3, respectively, in the second half.
UNC outscored UCLA in the paint by nine points and outassisted the Bruins by six. UCLA notched 15 assists, almost double the number of helpers they had against Michigan State on Thursday, but the Tar Heels assisted 21 of their 31 field goals.
After starting the season 4-0 against all non-Power Five opponents, UCLA has now dropped back-to-back games to ranked opponents this week.