We have to add one more piece to the winning formula. Norman Powell must dribble drive. Wow Norman! It started in the second half of the Oregon game, but that was in garbage time against a bad defensive team. Last night, Norman scored 23 points, mostly in the paint plus the 5-6 free throw shooting that always comes when you're in the paint. He did this mainly against Loveridge and partially against Wright (said by some to be the best defensive player in the league) and the Utah Utes.
What does the win mean? Let me start with the bummer. Unfortunately, the die has likely been cast by the Bruins thanks to that five game losing streak plus the two weekend losses in Oregon - - including three bad, bad blowouts on CBS and ESPN. No one will remember this game in four months unless the Bruins get a tourney bid. UCLA likely needs to get the automatic PAC-12 bid by winning their tournament. The other less likely route is to win out including beating Stanford and Arizona on the road plus Oregon State at home, and finishing the regular season in third place. Since Washington lost Upshaw and Oregon State lost at lowly Arizona State, this route became a little bit more plausible. That scenario would make it difficult for the NCAA to not give at least three bids to the PAC-12 and let Stanford jump UCLA.
It's too bad. It's pretty clear now that the Bruins first stabilized against Stanford, and then started to win impressively when they played inside-out, running the offense through Tony Parker. Ignoring how the regime put itself in this precarious position to begin with, if not for Tony's bad back, the Bruin might have won six straight games at this juncture. The caveat is that they have not won on the road.
Is this the Bruin team we foresaw from the season preview? I won't make that big a leap, but this is why they beat Utah: they played an inside-out game under control, and when Utah took away the inside game with the double team, Norman took the ball to the hoop, Bryce knocked down mainly good, selective shots, slumping Isaac Hamilton scored when Utah was trying to make a run, Thomas Welsh had his best game thus far, and the defense was credible. I'm trying to say that this team can win if they play within themselves in a logical scheme, and there are alternative weapons such that you can't, like Utah tried, successfully shut down the offense by focusing on one aspect. And the bench contributed to boot!
Yep, Utah obliged last night by perhaps looking past the Bruins, and as noted in the comment threads, they are another PAC-12 team that can't win away from their home court.
Two more win factors: the Bruins out-hustled (Bill Walton's theme of the night) the Utes perhaps motivated by the return of Tony Parker and trying to avoid going over the cliff as a team. Steve Alford actually made a pregame adjustment that worked. We thought we'd seen the last of the zone, but there was a heavy dose of 3-2 which relieved Bryce of much of his perimeter responsibility. Wright had 4 first half points, Loveridge 3 and Poeltl 8 (there's the weakness of a 3-2 if Looney is on the top). Poeltl was actually benched for most of the second half scoring zero.
This is what I found remarkable about last night:
1) The Bruins played mostly zone for the first time since the Kentucky game. The 3-2 had been used before, but only for a handful of plays.
2) Norman attacked the rim constantly. I have to admit, I was concerned about his 2-6 start including three missed jumpers while Tony stood around, but he was a different player after that. That was the Norman we've been waiting for since the preseason.
3) Utah had one shot clock violation and three other forced shots as the clock wound down in the first half. This was the tip-off to me that this was a different game.
4) Hat tip to Bill Walton for pointing out that the Bruins out-hustled the Utes all night.
5) Another hat tip to Bill Walton for recognizing Thomas Welsh. I think he went too far suggesting that Welsh should play over Tony, but he did recover saying that Tony should be saved for Colorado due to his back issues.
6) Utah committed 14 turnovers to the Bruins 6. The Bruins scored 18 points off turnovers to Utah's 12 (mainly late in the game when Utah put on a ferocious full court press).
7) Though behind in the first half, the Bruins won the battle of the boards 29-27, and won the offensive rebounding battle 10-6.
8) The Bruins led in points in the paint, 34-26. Oddly, these points were mainly Norman's.
9) Krystkowiak's strategy was to double-team Tony and Kevon Looney. Tony's line was 4 points and 6 rebounds. Kevon was 7 and 6. That line alone would lead one to think the Bruins were blown out, but Norman scored 23, Bryce 14 and Isaac 11. Further, instead of regressing to bad perimeter shooting when the inside game was taken away, the Bruin guards stayed under control. If anything, there was over-dribbling. I thought they were stalling in the second half.
10) Utah mounted a comeback late in the game, bringing the gap down from 15 to 7. Although one of the Bruins main weaknesses, ball handling, was exposed, the team didn't crumble. As a matter of fact, Isaac stepped up. I have to say, I don't know why teams don't pressure the Bruins more except that they haven't felt the need to -- they just let the guards brick shot after shot.
Colorado beat USC 98-94 last night in triple overtime. Josh Scott did not make the trip, but Xavier Johnson did play for the first time in four games. Askia Booker scored 43, taking 23 of Colorado's 65 shots. Of course, this is just SC.
Could Saturday's game against Colorado be a letdown game? The Bruins should want revenge. I think this will be an easy win. The big game is next Thursday at Stanford. Can they win on the road, and possibly get back into the post-season conversation?