Throughout this year I have been trying to remind people of context. Last year, Steve Alford led UCLA to a losing record in his third season, the worst ever for a UCLA coach in his third year. This year looked different. the Kentucky win was a great win. People were talking Final Four. The past had seeming been forgotten.
Now, after fourth straight loss to Southern Cal, it is time to keep things in context. Anyone remember we beat Kentucky last year as well? Who here is happy now? UCLA is now in fourth place in the PAC 12, behind Utah. UCLA has slim to no chance to win the Pac-12 title. A protected seed out west in the NCAA tournament may be gone. This season was fun until Saturday but the season should be judged by March. Who isn't worried now?
To be clear, I was not worried after the Oregon loss. We almost won and Oregon is a very good team at home. I thought the blueprint to beat us was there in the Arizona game, a very troubling beat down at home. And, now, the Southern Cal loss. Moreover, except Kentucky, our other wins are not looking that good as some of the teams we beat are not as good as predicted.
Of course, it is still not over. I will take a little different tact in this one and, instead of a news roundup talking about how we lost to "just SC", I will talk about what Steve Alford should do.
The Counter Intuitive One
Lonzo Ball is human. I say this not because, last night, it looked like he was going to get his first triple-double from points, rebounds and turnovers. I say this because he needs to rest sometime. For the second game in a row, Steve Alford took Lonzo out after he was gassed. Lonzo is a great player. He is human, though. He can't play 40 minutes at the highest level. He needs to sit, probably midway through the first half. Shoot, we never run out of timeouts, even use a timeout to give him an extra blow.
The Obvious One
We need to play more zone. Another bonus of the zone is it can rest Ball a bit versus chasing his man around. Alford finally took Ball out as he trailed pathetically behind his man on a driving layup when it was obvious that Ball was exhausted. A zone can give Ball a chance to rest.
Of course, the main bonus is it hides Bryce. We have gone over this often it is worth noting that the zone worked in the second half for the first 10 minutes when Southern Cal scored only10 points.
Tell Ike Inigbogu There Is More To Defense Than Blocking Shots
Thomas Welsh is a good post defender. He is a good man-to-man defender and he does it without really ever jumping. Ike Anigbogu does not understand that at all. He was horrid last night. He was jumping at everything. It would be funny if it was not sad on one play Southern Cal's backup center got the ball down low and fumbled it bit. Ike was already in the air and grabbed the rim to try to block his non-attempted shot. It was just ugly. But that is seemingly all Ike does on D is try to block shots.
Ike did not play in the entire second half and I can't blame Alford for that decision. However, I can blame Alford for the fact Ike looks completely lost on defense and is arguably looking worse than at the start of the season. Alford and staff need to work on getting Ike to play defense, rebound AND block shots.
Institute The Walton/Wilkes Wooden Rule For Holiday
I am not talking about haircuts. Wooden told the players on his great Walton/Wilkes team that on every possession where the Bruins did not have a fast break layup: Walton or Wilkes had to touch the ball. When Holiday is at the point, make sure he knows that Lonzo or TJ Leaf must touch the ball every offensive possession. Leaf is also a great passer. Notice the rule was not that they have to shoot, just that they have to touch the ball.
Even this small step would help get Holiday under control. Some are fed up with Holiday as a point but Holiday is a really good player. The better answer is pull him in somewhat. Now, Steve likes to let the guys run free but Holiday needs limits.
Institute Another Wooden Tactic
In the famous championship game against Memphis where Bill Walton went 21-22, during a timeout a player went to Coach and said, can we do something else besides throw the ball to Walton? Wooden responded simply, "Why?" The pass to Walton was working every time. Coach's point was "Why would we do anything else?"
Last night early in the game, Welsh was 5-5. Just SC had switched centers benching Metu and nothing was working. At one point the score was Welsh 10, rest of UCLA 10 and Southern Cal 10. Then Welsh was benched and hardly saw the ball again. Alford should have kept getting the ball inside to Welsh until Southern Cal stopped them. It is inexplicable it did not happen that way.
The Best Part Of The UCLA Offense Is The Five Guys Can Score
This is related to the above. Southern Cal was not going to have their guards leave Bryce or Isaac. They basically dared Welsh to beat them. And that is the strength of this team. Remember ASU dared Isaac to beat them. In that case, UCLA kept getting the ball to Isaac who torched them. I wonder what would have happened if UCLA kept feeding Welsh.
UCLA has to take advantage of what the defense gives them. Last night should have been about Welsh and Leaf. Later against the zone, Isaac started coming through.
The strength of this team is the first six can light it up. We need to take advantage of that because no defense can really cover all 5 guys easily.
Here is the thing, Alford has the tools to fix things. He can still do it, but the clock is ticking real fast. He has a week break to get it together.