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Bruins Beat Cardinal 89-75, But Doubts Continue to Linger

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The Bruins moved from coincidence to trend while taking out the Cardinal.

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This was....well, it certainly was another game.

Maybe we should state the obvious first: UCLA was never going to lose this game. Stanford isn’t a great team as-is, and with the Cardinal missing their best player in Reid Travis, this on REALLY was never going to be in doubt.

And yet.....

For the third game in a row, UCLA found itself needing to buckle-down in the second half of a blowout, as a combination of better shooting and weak effort from the Bruins allowed Stanford to close an 18-point halftime lead. And, while UCLA eventually pulled away to a comfortable lead, this game ended up doing nothing to aleviete any fears Bruin fans may have developed over the past few games. To wit:

Isaac Hamilton’s Slump Continues

This was Isaac’s best game in a few weeks, as he managed to get to double-digits in points for the first time since facing Western Michigan back on December 21st. So that’s good! He also did that on 6-15 shooting, including 1-7 from distance. That’s not as good! The last time Hamilton hit multiple 3s in a game was back on December 10th against Michigan. A month is a long time for that to happen!

I do credit Coach Alford for trying to get Hamilton going, though. The Bruin offense seemed to be making a concerted effort to get Hamilton open looks, with Ball and Alford continually passing up shots of their own to get Hamilton the ball. Isaac, to his credit, was also more aggressive than he ha been in previous games, attacking the hoop with a bit more regularity. Still, Isaac has had a nightmarish start to Pac 12 play, and the Bruins will need him to be better going forward.

Aaron Holiday Quietly Struggling

I imagine Aaron is counting his lucky stars that Isaac’s slump is taking up all of the coverage, because it’s allowed him to quietly go through his own stretch of poor play without as much attention.

A lot has been made of how unselfish this team has been this season, and for the most part that’s true. The one outlier has been Holiday, who also happens to be the best Bruin when it comes to attacking the rim. At times, this can be really good; there was a solid stretch of games where Holiday was carrying the team through rough-patches with some strong play off the bench, prompting a lot of columns focused on Holiday’s play as a “Super 6” around Christmas. Unfortunately, his play since the holidays has been....well, lacking is a good word.

The simple truth is that Holiday has been a bit of a liability offensively from the Oregon game on. The aggressive drives have turned from controlled to uncontrolled, and it’s leading to more than a few possessions where Aaron will drive to the basket without an apparent plan.

The good news is that, even when his offensive game is off, Aaron remains a plus-defender, so he’s still been a net positive on the court, but you’d like to see him get more under control going forward.

Defense Better! Stanford Also Not Good!

Again, I’ll be fair up front: holding an opponent to 37.8% shooting, including 29.4% from three, is very good. It’s certainly UCLA’s best defensive performance to date.

Still, you have to take into account that the Cardinal just aren’t very good offensively. The worst part of the game was when the Bruins would allow the Cardinal to go on some mini-runs off of easy baskets. Most-telling was a little nugget I pointed out at the half over Twitter: at halftime, the Bruins had 6 steals. They ended the game with 7. Now, I get that steals aren’t an exact science, but they are a good indicator that the UCLA defense got much less aggressive in the second half.

With all this said, it’s a fine win.

Lonzo Ball led the Bruins in points (21) and assists (8), while TJ Leaf led the team in rebounds (10) while accumulating ANOTHER double-double. Michael Humphrey led the Cardinal with 27 points.

The Bruins next play on Thursday, on the road against Colorado.

Go Bruins!