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Undefeated No More: Bruins Finally Lose, 89-87

A back-and-forth game in Eugene sees the Bruins on the losing end.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t actually know how to respond to this one, if I’m being honest.

There’s a lot to think about here, a lot of places to point fingers: the Bruins poor defense in the first half, Isaac Hamilton’s complete no-show, Aaron Holiday’s poor offensive day, Isaac missing a FT at the end.

Here’s the real bottom line: UCLA finally didn’t play at a high-enough level to win. That’s the simplest answer here.

It’s hard to say UCLA’s offense was bad in this game: the Bruins shot 53.1% overall from the field, with Thomas Welsh (20 points on 8-11 shooting) and Bryce Alford (20 points on 7-11 shooting, including 6-10 from 3) keeping the Bruins in the game while others struggled. The freshman finally had freshman games, with Lonzo Ball getting 14 points on 5-11 shooting while TJ Leaf had a pedestrian (by his standards) 13 points on 5-8 shooting.

A lot is going to be made of Bryce Alford at the end of the game, so I’m just going to address this up front: the easiest, and incidentally laziest, thing to point to is Bryce Alford’s missed FT as the reason this game was lost. It certainly didn’t help, but it was not the singular reason the Bruins lost.

If you want to point fingers, the first should be pointed at Isaac Hamilton. Hamilton was awful today, both offensively and defensively. The thing with Hamilton is, as much as I love his game, games like this one do a lot to show just how outmatched he can be against hyper-athletic teams. Hamilton had 2 points on 1-6 shooting, to go along with 3 turnovers, while defensively Oregon consistently targeted Hamilton with screens to take advantage of his comparative lack-of-athleticism. Say what you will about Steve Alford, but he recognized that Hamilton was not going to be a positive contributor today, and limited his minutes to 24 on the game.

The second finger should probably be pointed at Aaron Holiday. Holiday saw an increase in minutes thanks to Hamilton’s poor performance, but he may have inadvertently justified the people saying he was best served as a Super-Six off the bench. Holiday had 5 points on 2-10 shooting, and while he led the team in assists, he also had 3 turnovers and forced way too many shots. To his credit, Holiday was still very good defensively, but that offensive performance just can’t happen.

And this is where I will point out that, for as bad as UCLA’s defense was in the first half, the defense in the second half really was much better! Of course, when you allow 52 points on 19-35 shooting (including 7-14 from distance), you’re going to look better by comparison. But the Ducks shot a pedestrian 11-32 from the field in the second half, and the Bruins were much better at closing out on Oregon shooters, with the Ducks going 4-16 from distance in the second half.

Bottom line, though, is that UCLA just did not play well enough to win this game. The good news is UCLA will not play a tougher game the rest of the season, and the sting of this one should fuel the Bruins when the two teams rematch later this year.

Bryce Alford and Thomas Welsh tied for the points lead for the Bruins with 20 points each. Welsh also led the team with 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Aaron Holiday led the team with 7 assists. Dillon Brooks led all scorers with 23 points for the Ducks.

3 Takeaways

  1. Player of the Game: Thomas Welsh - Welsh has been out of the past 3 games with a knee injury, but he announced his presence early and often. The Ducks just had no answer for the 7-foot center, who was able to pick apart the Ducks defense with his midrange game. Thomas Welsh from the elbow has become the surest thing in the UCLA offense.
  2. Ball has a killer instinct - Let’s start with this: Lonzo Ball was positively dreadful in the first half, and for a good portion of the second as well. But what makes players like Lonzo Ball great is their ability to shrug off early failures. Ball absolutely took over the game at the 10:40 mark, hitting 3 3-pointers in a row to give the Bruins a 2 point lead. It’s that never-say-die attitude that will take the Bruins a long way this season.
  3. Sometimes, the other teams make their shots - Credit to Oregon: when they needed to make a basket, they got it. For much of the season, UCLA has been able to beat teams with one well-timed run that the opponent just couldn’t respond to. In this one, Oregon was able to answer the Bruins every single time. Oregon simply out-played the Bruins for key stretches, getting their share of loose balls and forcing the issue with drives. Oregon is absolutely a top team this year, so you have to like how UCLA still had a shot to win despite having an average-at-best game.

UCLA will look to bounce back on Friday, with another road game against the Oregon State Beavers.

Go Bruins!