UCLA breezed to win last night and on the good side there is this.
UCLA's 24-point demolition was its sixth by that much or more - a feat it reached just four times in each of the previous two seasons. And while Saturday's blowout won't mean much in the grand scheme of the season, the confidence-building victory served as an ideal buffer between a tough first loss on the road and UCLA's most daunting matchup of the season against star freshman Jabari Parker and the Blue Devils.
Another good point is one player is showing signs of serious improvement under Steve Alford.
Backup point guard Bryce Alford has a 3-pointer in every game this season except the opener against Drexel. He hit two Saturday night on his way to 10 points, and was one of five Bruins to score in double digits.
More than the threes, Bryce is now playing within himself and looking to pass first.
Zach LaVine came off the bench for UCLA and registered 10 points, while classmate Bryce Alford finished with nine points, a game-best six assists and just one turnover. Alford pushed his season assist to turnover ratio to 3.4 to 1.
Both Zach and Bryce are putting up nice numbers. While I still believe Zach should be starting, this gives UCLA its best backcourt bench it has had in years.
The starting frontcourt lineup is another issue and was the real news of the game last night. Alford wants to go two Wears, a lot.
Saturday's game was perhaps most valuable in its rejuvenation of twins Travis and David Wear, who had struggled in their past three games, combining to shoot just 5 of 13 from the floor for 13 points.
For the first time, Alford chose to start with a two-Wear lineup, inserting Travis Wear in Tony Parker's spot at center in hopes of jumpstarting the senior forwards. That paid dividends, albeit against lesser competition, as they surpassed their combined total from the past three games in just 21 minutes.
Travis and David combined for 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. They will likely remain in the starting lineup.
The nice shooting numbers leave out the more important number, rebounding. UCLA's starting 4 and 5 had 6 rebounds last night against a bad rebounding team with a 2-10 record. But starting two Wears is Alford's answer to the Missouri loss. While I think Travis' team first attitude and unselfishness is great, Travis and David do not seem the answer to the rebounding problems.
Alford said he appreciated that Travis was unselfish enough to come off the bench after returning from his surgery.
"He was going to be in the starting lineup on opening day; he deserved that, he earned that," Alford said. "And I appreciate his unselfishness because we were on a roll when he came back. I even called him in and asked him because I don't like to take someone out of the starting lineup because of illness or injury but Travis said, ‘No, Coach. Keep doing what you're doing.'"
But the roll ended. The Bruins lost at Missouri on Dec. 7 and that made it easier for Alford to put Travis back in the starting lineup and bring sophomore Tony Parker off the bench.
The other issue is, of course, defense. Again not sure if the Wears help there either. I guess Alford understands the problems and it is job to find the answers as UCLA was outscored in the second half giving up 47 to a hapless PVAM.
"It's a consistency," Alford said. "It's a habit, and we've not developed that yet. We've had some lopsided wins, but we've not created the habit defensively. For championship teams, it's got to be habit-forming. We're not there yet."
The last word goes to Kyle Anderson. Kyle is going home to MSG to play Duke Thursday. Kyle has also seemingly improved his three point shooting (small sample size) and is looking forward to going home:
- Point guard Kyle Anderson has improved his shooting significantly since last season, when he hit just eight 3-pointers all season. After an 0-of-4 start through his first three games as a sophomore, he has hit 9-of-11. His percentage beyond the arc is now 60 percent, up from 21.1 a year ago.
- Anderson grew up just 20 minutes away from Madison Square Garden, where he said he's watched "way too many" Knicks games. UCLA's Dec. 19 game against No. 8 Duke gives him a chance to return there, this time playing in front of his family.