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UCLA Basketball: Week 13 Q&A -- Berkeley Letdown Edition

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Things started to go wrong somewhere around the 9 minute mark of the Stanford game, and it extended 15 minutes into the first half of the UC Berkeley game. The Bruins overtook the Golden Bears early in the second half, and still led by 5 at around the four minutes mark, but couldn't close the deal after they missed critical free throws, and let Bird and Singer shoot uncontested threes.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

1)  What surprised you most about the loss to UC Berkeley?

chrissorr: We probably shouldn't be surprised by anything, but as happened so often over the past three years (including Howland's last), the team loses when so much is on the line. I feared that there would be a Stanford hangover the way it ended -- they stopped playing defense and the offense reverted back to the individual play. Like you say, they were probably very fatigued by the end of Saturday's game so not closing out on 3's', missing the clutch free throws, and Parker and Looney having minor hip injuries.

Tony and Kevon had good stats, but UCB had them bottled up pretty well, double and triple teaming them. The number of blocks and strips in the last few minutes was very disturbing.

Mostly, UCB was able to shut down Norman. Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird did great jobs on him. That's unusual when you can hold the bigs relatively in check (we can debate Tony's 20 - he could have had at least 6 more against virtually no interior), and still shut down the other star straight-up man.

Despite everything, if Bryce and Looney hit free throws, UCLA wins or at least goes into overtime.

DCBruins:  In retrospect it makes sense.  UC Berkeley was playing better and hot recently. Steve Alford has never swept a PAC 12 road trip.

But most importantly the bench.  This game showed what we were worried about before the season: the lack of a bench.  Every starter played 30 or more minutes.  Tony Parker had not played this many minutes except in the double OT game against Stanford at home. Tony was coming off the flu.  He was gassed at the end.  Looney was banged up and hurting. I don't think he gets a shot blocked like the one he had late if he wasn't.  Powell played 39 minutes!  Playing from behind also takes more energy.  But look at the bench:  Noah Allen has scored 1 point in PAC 12 road games this season!  GG had an air ball in his two shots and Welsh had four fouls in just 10 minutes.  I really believe this game was lost before the season because of recruiting failures.

More alarming this team may be running down.

2)  While a lot has been written on Bryce's offense, what do you think of his defense?

chrissorr: In the preview I mentioned that their three guards would be a challenge for our three guards. I wasn't thinking about Singer.

I actually thought the game got under control in the first half when they went to a 3-2. Man defense was weak from everyone this time.

I've read some comments questioning why we would be in a zone for their last possession given how hot they got from 3. I wonder if the answer was that Bryce in man is a liability.

What can I say? Bryce is beyond confounding. How does he sleep down the hall from the coach, and still not play defense?

By the way, on the theme of "we still could have won this game in so many ways," Tarwater was extremely lucky to arc that three over Looney.

DCBruins: The free throws or the strip late in the game were bad. But the biggest worry about Bryce may not be his offense.  In this game his terrible defense was especially obvious on a kid named Sam Singer.  Singer hit four shots (two three pointers) and an assist during a span to start the second half on his way to his PAC 12 career high.  In other words, Singer took over the game for UC Berkeley on offense.  Singer is not in the conversation for best offensive player at UC Berkeley and is a backup.  He was covered by Bryce.

Moving Bryce to two guard or playing him off ball would help make Bryce a better player on offense.  But that is only half the battle.  Bryce's defense should play him out of the starting lineup next year unless he significantly improves his D.

3) Steve Alford called timeout and had Norman Powell take the last shot (not including last second shot off the free throw miss). What surprised, if anything, about that play?

chrissorr: The fact that Steve Alford didn't call the play for Bryce was interesting -- I suppose that was a positive development. As you have said, Norman has assumed the leadership reigns, so this makes sense. Like Walton says, give it to your best player.

But that wasn't a play! One pick from Tony, and then bully your way in? Come on, you telling me Alford doesn't have a dozen plays to use in that situation? Yes, get it to Norman, but in a better place. Possibly try a clear out from the top of the key (although Wallace is a great defender). When the inside closes to help, drop the ball off to Tony or Kevon. If that's not there, then kick it out to Bryce in the corner.

That was just an ugly one-on-one play -- really not a college-level last play after a timeout.

DCBruins: Conspiracy theorists will say Steve wanted Norman to fail.  I don't buy that. Our offense at the end of the game had the guards (all three) running around screens down low.  They were gassed.  You can't get the ball to Looney because he just bricked free throws and if he is gets fouled the odds don't seem good.  Parker is similar.  Isaac had done his disappearing act again.  Bryce had shot 3-6 from the free throw line.  Another sign that he might be gassed.  Really the play had to be to Norman.

As far as the play, let me agree a 100% with you.

4) We were discussing benching Isaac Hamilton for GG.  Is that idea gone now?

chrissorr: My first comment would be: "do we still feel the same way about GG?" Has he hit an open shot in two games?

Nevertheless, there's still merit to the idea of making a lineup change. I go back and forth over whether it should be Isaac or Bryce. Bryce missed important foul shots in two games now, not to mention the late turnovers (at 1:35 of Cal). His ideal spot is to stand at the corner 3 area, and stay there. There just may be a benefit to not having them on the court at the same time all game.

DCBruins:  I would still consider it.  We need someone to play more off the bench.  We start games slow too often anyways.  Why not start GG and play him 20 minutes a game (maybe 12-14 in the first half) to keep the other guys fresher.  I would also consider using GG some at 5.  Of course the other side is Isaac's defense.  Isaac has played well on D.  GG at the three will/may struggle on D.  In the end I would still consider doing it but I would understand why you may not.  (Of course benching Bryce would be best as he would give you offense off the bench but I think that is only slightly less likely than Bill Walton praising Ben Howland.)

In all cases, I would still want the Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Norman Powell, Kevon Looney, and Tony Parker lineup in at the end of the game.

5) Bill Walton says Thomas Welsh will be All-Conference next year and All-American the year after that. Discuss.

chrissorr: Bill still has Welsh's two ferocious dunks in his mind from the Utah game. I'm sure Walton knows the back story like we do, but he's just not in tune with what Welsh has done this season. Sure he's had an arc, and I very much agree that the guards don't trust him enough to pass to him, but he was terrible in the Cal game. How many offensive rebounds did he give up (to be fair, it's a team game, and Bird, etc. were set free)?

Where should Welsh' minutes come from? That's the problem. Tony is still here next year. Since this has been an all-guard league, I wouldn't be surprised to see Welsh All-Conference in two years. We've always said how skilled he is, so I wouldn't be surprised by All-American in his senior year, but I just can't bet on it.

DCBruins: Bill also praised Noah Allen.  Bill loves every player on the team it seems except one.  (For me it was pretty obvious Bill was quoting from my post here on Bryce with his comments last game.  Thanks Bill.)

On Welsh.  Glass half full.  It takes Bigs longer.  Welsh is by all accounts a hard worker.  Shoot Tony Parker in front of him did not exactly look like his McDonalds All American status his freshman year, if now.  Welsh plays another year behind Parker and learns from an all PAC 12 Center.  Parker is a great guy for him to practice against because he is the opposite of Welsh in that he is relatively short but thick and strong and likes to play close to the basket. Welsh gains muscle and strength. Welsh follows in the tradition of Ryan Hollins and Tony Parker to come on his senior year and become a good PAC 12 player or more.

Glass half empty.  Welsh is too weak and thin.  He got pushed around in the exhibition game.  He is another Brandon Lane in that he is a good kid but does not have the strength to maintain position inside against the big strong athletes of high majors. He is 7 feet tall but he is not an athlete and never will be.

We will have a better idea in the PAC 12 next year.  In fairness to the kid, it is a BIG difference from high school in that people are almost as big and more athletic.  That takes time to adjust to.