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UCLA v. Oregon, Lack of Defensive Leadership Dooms UCLA

A note on yesterday's press conference that is relevant for tonight's game.

Earlier Alford blamed big-big for our d problems, now Isaac gets the blame
Earlier Alford blamed big-big for our d problems, now Isaac gets the blame
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

I try to be one of those glass half full guys.  I can never be one of those who root for UCLA to lose just so Steve Alford, Ben Howland or whoever loses so they will get fired.  

At this point as a glass half full guy, I would like our current coach to start playing for next year now.  For example, I would like to see Aaron Holiday play 30 minutes a game at point and Prince Ali 20+ minutes at 2/3. This would be invaluable experience for those two.  It could be a "positive" for the dumpster fire our program is right now. (On the contrary, if we had any shot at the NCAA tourney, I would not be advocating this.)

I am also a realist who hears Fox71's voice in his head saying "there is no way the guy currently in charge takes a single minute away from Bryce."  Fox is correct.  This is sad, because assuming Steve is coaching next year, it does not seem as if Bryce will be playing much point guard.  Ball will be the primary ball handler as he is a phenomenal point.  Aaron with another year under his belt will be the backup point and/or best defender against a point.  Hopefully, at least. 

However, in my opinion, Steve did something even worse yesterday, he threw Isaac Hamilton under the bus in his press conference for his inability to replace Kevon Looney and Norman Powell on defense which according to Steve is our biggest problem:

"Kevon was a long, really active defender.  Norman [NP4] was a big defender.  . . . We are asking Isaac to do a lot.  He is our leading scorer and, by the way, guard the guy who is 6'7" or 6'8" the other teams big guard.  We just don't have that big guard."

There is so much wrong with this, I am not sure where to begin.  Let's not even get into the fact, that many team's now play three guards.  I guess I will have a list:

1.  The worst defensive player on the team is Bryce. This is not even debatable by even Steve's defenders.  They can credibly argue that Bryce has to be on the court for his offense.  They can argue his "great" assist to turnover ratio.  However, if you talk about defensive problems that discussion needs to begin with Bryce.  He is the worst defender on this team in every category. 
2. Last year Isaac Hamilton was voted the team's best defensive player at the team awards banquet.  Now don't get me wrong, NP4 was the best with Looney as the second best.  Hamilton is not the best defensive guard this year that distinction goes to Holiday.  Jonah Bolden is likely the best defensive player.  However, Hamilton is in the top 5 on defense on this team and the number one scoring option.  
3. Last year NP4 at the end of games covered the other team's best player 1-3.  His biggest weakness as a defender was he did have a tendency to foul.  He was not just a big guard defender as Steve says.  Holiday is quicker and more tenacious at times than Powell.  He is not as wise as he is a freshman but he is also not as essential as NP4 who if he fouled out last year, we lose.  Certainly it is a loss to trade NP4 the player for Aaron Holiday on D but not as big a loss as you can focus more on D for longer periods with Aaron than NP4.  
4. Straight up Jonah Bolden is a better defender than Kevon Looney was last year.  Looney also was hurting at the end of the year.  Don't get me wrong Looney was a better player on offense and rebounding but Bolden is the best defensive big UCLA has had in the Alford era.  Bolden's D won the Gonzaga and UNLV games for us this year.  Thus only talking about defense, the "trade" of NP4 and Looney for Holiday and Bolden was not a loss for UCLA.
5. So why are we so much worse on defense? Tonight's Oregon game is an important milestone.  NP4's famous speech chewing out his fellow UCLA players was for their lack of defensive effort against a similar very good on offense Oregon team.  The speech turned the team around.  NP4 was a leader as he was the best offensive and defensive player last year. He was not saying get me the ball more or publicly blaming his teammates but instead saying that he couldn't be the only guy trying on D.  
6. Bryce is the leader and he does not try on D.  If the leader does not try, what kind of example is that?  Bryce does not have the athletic gifts to be a great defender like NP4 but he could be an example by giving his all on the defensive side.  And that is the biggest difference on defense this year from last. Last year the defensive leader not only led by example but preached D.  This year the leader does not even try on D.

If Steve really cares about defense and wants to fix the problem, he would make an example of the leader for his lack of effort.  

I know.  It won't happen.  And that is why UCLA has a huge Daddyball problem this year and, more importantly, next year.

Go Bruins!