This season has been fun at times to try to guess who is going to step up. A “starless” team like this one can be fun as you watch a good kid lead you to a win. I mean after five games, no one was picking the most recent star Jaime Jaquez Jr. Today, that held true as well with Shareef O’Neal playing his best game as a Bruin.
But the problem with no stars is that there is not a go-to player or players. UCLA’s offense was ugly, even when it was “working.” While the defensive problems are obvious, the offensive solutions are not.
A side note before I start on the game summary: I get people hate Bill Walton, but Walton knows basketball and UCLA. His comedic skills are in question. Digger is still a wimp. Taking shots at Wooden like Wooden not calling a timeout in the win that made Digger’s career, the tired cliche of UCLA coaches getting run out of town and other little jabs at the UCLA Bruins like saying UCLA lost it when it became the Pac-10. I get it. He has to try to balance Walton. But Walton is a space cadet before he is a homer. Digger is
wimp a hater first.
In the first five minute, UCLA had twice as many turnovers (4) as baskets. The game plan was to go inside. Cody Riley wasn’t able to convert and Jalen Hill got the quick hook for an offense foul. UCLA was down 8-5. At the under 12 timeout, it was still 8-5. UCLA was winning time of possession, as UCLA kept getting offensive rebounds but still could not score.
Then, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish pulled away as the Bruins continued to struggle on offense and Notre Dame’s best three point shooter, Dane Goodwin, hit three threes and Notre Dame was suddenly up 17-8. TJ Gibbs also hit a three. It was 20-10 at the under 8 time out and UCLA’s defense was 6 of 14 against the three but 1 of 5 inside. Th Bruins had only given up two points in the paint but was down ten as the Irish continued to shoot well from three. The offense kept struggling with a lot of misses, especially by Cody Riley.
UCLA did make a run to close out the half. It was a strange mini-run. Chris Smith played well on defense and got some rebounds. Shareef also got an offensive rebound basket but the basket to cut it under ten was a three-pointer by Alex Olesinski. Olesinski was one of two Bruins positive in the +/- for the half, with a +6 in nine minutes.
The second half started out as a disaster. UCLA keep missing and Notre Dame started hitting inside and out to start the first half with 14-4 run. Coach Cronin was forced to call a timeout. At one point, announcer Dave Pasch said UCLA is only shooting 28% and Bill Walton said: “That high?!?” It was that ugly.
Then, UCLA completely forgot about Jalen Hill and Cody Riley and went to a strange lineup of Alex Olesinski, O’Neal, Chris Smith, Prince Ali or Jaquez and Tyger Campbell. That lineup was better with O’Neal as a force on the offensives boards and Chris Smith scoring 7 points. But it was a spread offense not a post offense. It was something we have not seen this year and on defense it traded baskets.
But it was too late. UCLA lost a game where they held the opponent toless than 40% shooting and out-rebounded them by seven. On offense, it was because UCLA shot under 35% and were even awful from the free throw line, making just 10 of 20. On the other side, Notre Dame shot 39 threes and shot a higher percentage from three than 2.
- Player of the Game (for UCLA): Shareef O’Neal. Shareef proved he can rebound and play inside against a high major. He led UCLA with 11 rebounds and added eight points (including 1-2 from three). The only blemish was that he was 1 of 4 from the free throw line. By far, this was his best game as a Bruin and he was +8 in the plus/minus stat in 17 minutes of a 14-point loss.
- What the Heck Part 1: Lineups. We saw some crazy lineups. Hill and Riley played only 38 minutes between them. Chris Smith, despite coming off the bench, led UCLA in minutes. Alex Olesinski played more minutes than Hill. There were some very strange lineups on the court. At this point in the season, it is hard to know what the player rotation is going to be in any give game.
- What the heck part 2: Offense. UCLA lost both halves by 7. They shot 30% in the first half and 40% in the second. After a bad start in the second half, the Bruins went away from Hill and Riley and the traditional post-up game. The result was better offense, but it was ugly. I don’t know how many times a guy drove into the paint, got stopped and then threw it out. UCLA did get nine offensive rebounds and go for 4 of 8 from three, and they stopped turning the ball over. They only had two turnovers in the second half, but no one would call it pretty. The best symbol of it may be going 7 of 16 from the free throw line in the second half. It was a strange-looking game as UCLA went away from their inside approach to an approach that was kind of drive and hope.
Digger is still a wimp. Go Bruins!