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UCLA Manages to Get Even Worse Defensively in Loss to USC

Steve Alford Attempts to Coach Defense and the Bruins End Up Getting Worse in Loss to USC.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Alford is not a very good coach.

I know that some people might get defensive because of that statement, but in fairness, those people are better at defense than UCLA has been under Steve Alford.

Let me quote something I wrote in the aftermath of the ASU game real quick:

ASU was able to claw their way back to single digits thanks to a combination of poor UCLA defense (a theme this year) and a stretch of cold UCLA shooting (also a theme this year). Seriously, at some point UCLA is going to need to figure out how to stop having these lulls against bad opponents when up big. There’s a saying that you shouldn’t accept in a victory what you would in a loss, and these poor stretches in blowouts are starting to get ridiculous. It’s on Coach Alford to figure this out, and hopefully soon, because eventually that will catch up to the team.

There were people in the comments who, and I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, felt I was too harsh in the aftermath of a win. They felt that UCLA’s offense was still more than good enough to handle any opponent, and that we shouldn’t be too critical.

Now would be a good time for those people to go sit in the corner while the grown-ups talk, because UCLA got run off the court by USC tonight by the score of 84-76, marking the 4th straight loss for the Bruins against the Trojans.

Any shot at winning the Pac-12 regular season title has gone out the window. So has a top 10 ranking. So has a protected seed out West.

Realistically, any goodwill Steve Alford earned during that fast start should also go out the window.

This was almost the definition of a “chickens coming home to roost” game. We’ve stated repeatedly that UCLA’s defense was....well, not subpar. Not bad. Awful might be close, but the point is UCLA plays defense at a level that should be unacceptable for a team with this level of talent, and for the second week in a row an opponent recognized how to consistently beat that defense. UCLA’s offense was bound to regress from their historic highs, and after two games against decent to good defensive teams, that offense did regress! The UCLA bench wasn’t developed in the preseason, and it showed with Ike Anigbogu and GG Goloman playing 8 combined minutes, especially egregious because Ike is UCLA’s best rim protector, but couldn’t see the court in a game where USC players routinely drove past the turnstiles wearing the Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton jerseys.

The absolute saddest thing (well, second-saddest once you realize just how much Steve Alford is going to waste his one year with Lonzo Ball) is that this isn’t going to change. Steve Alford already won enough games this year that he’s easily safe in Danger Dan Guerrero’s eyes. Which means the players will change, but the same awful defense will remain. Which means UCLA will never truly be elite under Steve Alford, just “good enough”.

And the question we really should ask ourselves is: should we settle for “good enough”?

Isaac Hamilton led UCLA with 20 points. Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford tied for the lead in assists with 4, and Ball led the team with 10 rebounds. Shaqquan Aaron led USC with 23 points.

3 Takeaways

  1. Player of the Game: Thomas Welsh - Congrats to Thomas Welsh, the only Bruin to make the trip from Westwood. Welsh went 6-7 from the field, and among the many, many questions UCLA fans should have in the aftemath of this game, you should be asking how he didn’t touch the ball more often. Seriously, he even had 3 assists in this game.
  2. Bad Bryce is Really, Really Bad - Bryce Alford is a polarizing player, and I get that, but if Bryce Alford isn’t making shots, then he shouldn’t be on the court. Bryce is the worst defender on the team by a solid amount, and his 37 minutes played tonight while going 1-7 from the field (1-5 from 3) is indefensible. I might not be paid an absolutely ridiculous amount of money to coach basketball, but it seems pretty obvious that getting a team to play good defense is harder when your worst defender gets rewarded with that amount of playing time. Seriously, Isaac Hamilton had 20 points tonight and played 5 fewer minutes. It’s unacceptable.
  3. UCLA played zone and the defense looked ok for 5 minutes - UCLA’s offense had issues all night once USC went to the zone, which makes sense considering how much more athletic USC is than UCLA (also, please note that being a better athlete does not make one a better player, but I digress). Steve Alford finally figured out that the defense might actually be needed, and went to a zone of his own 5 minutes into the second half. USC actually scored only 2 points over 6 minutes, while the UCLA defense forced some tough shots and turnovers. USC eventually figured out how to attack it eventually, but this UCLA team may need to go zone full-time at this point.

UCLA’s next game is on February 1st, in a road game at Washington State.

Go Bruins!