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The Backcourt is the Key for UCLA

Taking a look at the stats of UCLA worst losses and best wins. There is something to what Don McLean said: "The Bruins will ultimately have to make their threes to win." It is not just for the Arizona game.

How Steve Alford deals with these two will determine how far UCLA goes
How Steve Alford deals with these two will determine how far UCLA goes
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While UCLA had many bad losses this season that were absolute embarrassments (Utah, Oregon, and Kentucky in particular come to mind) , there were 5 games that UCLA arguably should have won but ended up losing.  Maybe one win in these games but certainly two wins UCLA would be looking okay to go the NCAA Tournament.

In order of worst bad loss in context:

1.        56-62 to Colorado on January 2  (A bad team without their best player)

2.       66-68 to ASU on February 18 (killed on the boards by a bad rebounding team)

3.       50-56 to Alabama on December 28 (lost to a really bad shooting team)

4.       62-64 to UC Berkeley on February 7 (UCLA collapsed at the end)

5.       55-66 to Oregon State on January 22 (no Tony Parker)

The easiest trend to spot is they are all road games.  What else?  UCLA shot decently in some games, won the rebounding in some games but:

  • In four out of five games we had more turnovers than assists
  • In all the games we shot 30% or under from three

What about players?

Well it is related to those statistics.

For the five bad losses our starting backcourt had the following line

  • Bryce Alford 19-69, 28%, 9-42 from three 21%, 23 Assists, 14 turnovers
  • Isaac Hamilton 17-53, 32%, 6-23 from three 23%, 6 Assists, 14 turnovers

Of course everyone shoots worse in a loss but neither Bryce or Isaac shot 50% or above in any of the bad losses.  (The other starters did in some.)  Isaac has been an assist machine in PAC 12 wins with 56 assists to just 23 turnovers but in the losses he has been awful as shown above.

How about in the good wins?  Well really it is hard to find five good wins so I went for four.  In order:

1.         69-59 vs. Utah on January 29, our win over a ranked team

2.       69-67 at Stanford on February 5, our only "good" road win

3.       86-81 (2 OT) vs. Stanford, the game that stopped the 5 game losing streak

4.       72-63 v. Oregon, Oregon finished ahead of us in the standings

Again, hard to see shooting trends.  We had more offense rebounds in each game than our opponents and less turnovers but that margin was not that great.

But on to the backcourt.

  • Bryce Alford 18-51, 35% 10-24 from 3, 42%, 17 assists and 12 turnovers
  • Isaac Hamilton 14-36, 38%, 6-17 from 3, 35%, 19 assists and 7 turnovers

In other words in our big wins Bryce is shooting well from three and Isaac is passing well without turning the ball over.  The exact opposite of our losses.  What could this mean from a strategy point of view?

Bryce does better off the ball as a three shooter.  It really helps this team when Bryce is hitting threes.

Isaac needs to play under control and look to pass first.  Isaac needs to realize he is the fifth option and his job is to pass and play defense.  The team is better when he passes.

UCLA is in trouble if Bryce is off from three.  Part of that is fixable as Bryce is a better shooter off the ball.  When the offense is at its best Isaac is passing the ball and not turning it over.  Isaac playing within himself is another key.  To be clear, I don't think Bryce and Isaac can win a game for UCLA but they certainly can lose one.