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UCLA Men's Basketball Q & A - Defenseless in Washington Edition

UCLA opened its 2016 Pac-12 season with a pair of bad losses to two of the worst teams in the conference: Washington and Washington State.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Many of us saw the season-opening Washington trip as an opportunity for the Bruins to earn their first road trip sweep of the Steve Alford era, and to head into this week's showdown with Arizona with a 2-0 conference record. Steve Alford's Bruins are anything but predictable, however; UCLA flipped the script against both the Huskies and the Cougars, dropping two winnable games and putting itself in a deep hole at the start of the Pac-12 campaign.

1. Realistically do you think UCLA can recover from its start to win the PAC 12?

Bruinette88: No, not a chance. Even if UCLA gets its act together and finishes 8-1 in its Pac-12 home games, I expect the Bruins to lose at least 3 of their remaining road games. That would result in a 12-6 conference record at best, and I think it's more likely that their record will be 11-7 or 10-8. That would almost inevitably correspond to a fourth place finish or worse.

DCBruins: Agree. There is no way UCLA wins the regular season because there is no way we sweep a road trip. The bigger question is can we even beat last year's 2-7 PAC 12 road record.

Bruinette88: Because the Bruins avoid the dreaded Rocky Mountains road trip this season, I think we will improve on last season's 2-7 Pac-12 road record, but it probably won't be by much.

2. Is it time for Alford to give up on using his "big-big" novelty lineup as a default starting lineup?

DCBruins: Probably. Certainly he cannot play zone with Parker and Welsh in the game, especially the goofy 3-2 zone Both of those bigs cannot cover a wing in the zone and can only play the middle in a zone. Man-to-Man it can work, depending on the opposing four. However, skilled bigs --as in Kyle Wiltjer or even Josh Hawkinson-- make it tough. So yeah, it is time to start Bolden at four but I would still play big big some.

Bruinette88: I wish Steve Alford would think a little more strategically about his lineups, and in particular, his starting lineup. His inclination to base his starting lineup on seniority is incredibly short-sighted, because among other things, it often results in playing multiple inexperienced players together as subs (e.g., Welsh, Goloman, Allen last season). I honestly don't think he understands that a team's best five players isn't necessarily its best lineup. His lineups should combine players with complementary skills, not similar skills. With respect to Alford's big-big lineup, I'd prefer to see him start Bolden and save the Parker-Welsh tandem for situations where it makes sense tactically.

DCBruins: Great point. In his entire time he has really never changed the starting lineup except for injury or suspension.

3. What's up with Tony Parker? He is now 9-31 shooting since a good first half against North Carolina and has been playing poorly on defense as well.

Bruinette88: With 3 minutes left in the first half against the Tar Heels, Parker was wrongly called for a charge. In a sense, he still hasn't recovered from that call; he hasn't been as aggressive as he normally is, and he appears to have lost confidence in himself. As we've seen throughout Parker's career, when he loses confidence in himself, he's not just bad--he's horrible. It happened last year in Arizona when he went into one of his funks and scored 4 points and pulled down 2 boards on the road trip.

DCBruins:I thought he might be hurt until he finally dunked against WSU but I think you are right. I expected more from a senior.

Bruinette88: Unfortunately, as we've seen before, it tends to be feast or famine with Tony.

4. Last season UCLA was 2-7 in Pac-12 road games. This season the Bruins are 0-2 so far. In your opinion, what makes Steve Alford's Bruins such a terrible road team?

DCBruins: It is a cliché, but it is also true: bench players play better at home than they do on the road. In five losses: Monmouth (No Bolden), Wake Forest (third game in three days, bench 2-10), North Carolina (3-9 not counting garbage time three by a walk on, 2 assists 3 turnovers), Washington (1-4, 2 assists, 6 turnovers) Washington State (1-6). I skipped Kansas because that game was never close but every loss except Wake Forest, just one player on the opposing bench has outscored the entire UCLA bench. On the other side take Jonah Bolden, at home he is shooting 12-24 (50%) away from home 6-26 (23%). Alford has failed to develop his bench's confidence.

Bruinette88: I agree, the failure of the bench to make meaningful contributions on the road has hurt UCLA.
But I think another factor is that UCLA is becoming increasingly weak defensively during the Alford era. Combine that with the fact that it's much more difficult to win on the road when a team relies on its offense to win, and you can see that the Bruins aren't built to turn in consistent performances on the road.

DCBruins: It may be another good reason to go away from big big. Parker (or Welsh ) off the bench could provide a real spark.