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Defense Struggles, but Bruins Prevail Over Nebraska 82-71

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The defense has some issues, but the offense shines as the Bruins make the finals of the Wooden Legacy.

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was interesting.

UCLA jumped out to a 38-25 lead at the end of the first half, and the defense looked like it could be passable in games where it needed to be.

Then the second half happened.

UCLA struggled to keep things in front of them in the second half, at one point switching to a zone to help stop all the penetration by the Nebraska guards. It didn’t really help, as Nebraska continued to probe the UCLA zone with increasing success. Yes, UCLA was able to win this game, but the success Nebraska was able to have offensively should be a concern going forward, especially against Texas A&M, which is a better offensive team.

Still, this was a win, and a fairly strong one, against a decent Nebraska team. Nebraska is definitely the best team UCLA has faced all year, and a team that wins games with its defense. To that end, the Bruins showed that they can make the offense work against teams that want to slow it down, and that’s a good sign going forward.

Also, speaking of good things, Ike Anigbogu made his season debut tonight! Anigbogu was on something of a minutes limit as he works his way back from offseason knee surgery, and he brought a completely different vibe to the game when he was in. Yes, Ike didn’t look like a world-beater in his first game action, but in 6 minutes he got two blocks and changed what Nebraska tried to do offensively. As Anigbogu gets more into game-shape, he’s going to grow into a special player.

Bryce Alford led the team in points and minutes, getting 18 points in 35 minutes, though five Bruins ended the game in double figures. Thomas Welsh led the team in rebounds with 11 on the way to another double-double, while Lonzo Ball led the team with 7 assists. Glynn Watson Jr. led Nebraska with 27 points on 10-18 shooting.

3 Takeaways

  1. Player of the game: Bryce Alford - No Bruin really played amazingly well like we’ve seen in the past few games, so this was a bit harder to give out, but Bryce Alford took over the game when he needed to in the second half. For all of his faults on the defensive end, Bryce has really looked like even more of an offensive threat in the new Lonzo Ball-focused offense, including getting 4 assists, but he carried the team offensively in the second half, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the half despite not making a single three-pointer. It wasn’t eye-opening, but Alford did what he needed to do, and didn’t force shots like we’ve seen in the past 3 years.
  2. Early-season Isaac is real - Isaac Hamilton has an issue early this season where he just hasn’t looked that locked in. In this game, he got 15 points on 5-12 shooting, but 3 of those came on three-pointers; when he drove, the results were less-than ideal. On top of that, Hamilton accounted for half of the team’s 8 turnovers (no other player had more than 1). While the offense has looked fantastic while Hamilton has struggled, one has to wonder how much better things can look with a locked-in Hamilton taking over games offensively while picking things up on the defensive end.
  3. Interior issues appear again - Ike Anigbolu’s return couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as UCLA’s interior game has had some issues. Yes, part of the problem is a weak exterior defensive effort allowing more penetration, but the UCLA bigs have had trouble rotating quickly. More worrisome is the rebounding numbers: both UCLA and Nebraska had 42 rebounds, but Nebraska made their money on the offensive boards, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds. That’s a number that just can’t happen going forward, and UCLA is going to have to figure out a solution to this quickly.

UCLA will play Texas A&M on Sunday in the final of the Wooden Legacy.

Go Bruins!