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UCLA’s Defense Fails Them in 100-89 Loss to Creighton

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The Bruins couldn’t put together a run late against a solid Bluejay team.

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic-Creighton at UCLA Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.

Creighton, a team with a smart coach who can recognize issues with the opponent’s style of play, utilized a mix of attacking a shorthanded interior and open 3-pointers to win a commanding 100-89 game over the UCLA Bruins.

This was a game where the chickens for UCLA definitely came home to roost. The younger players remain inconsistent, and the lack of upperclassmen to provide a steadying presence is becoming obvious early. Last year’s team had senior leaders in Bryce Alfrod and Isaac Hamilton who could provide a steadying presence for the younger guys. This year, Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh just haven’t been up to that task, especially on the defensive end.

And let’s not kid ourselves, the defensive end is exactly where UCLA lost this game. The Bruins allowed Creighton to score 100 points, which is a ridiculous amount, and honestly the Bluejays should have scored more. As a team, Creighton shot 49.3% and got 29 looks from deep, making 11 of them, but considering the amount of open looks it was a wonder Creighton didn’t make more. The Bluejays also missed 12 FTs, but they still managed to shoot 35 of those.

It was a general defensive failure, from poor transition defense (Creighton had 9 fast break points and drew more than a few fouls in the process) to weak interior defense (the Bluejays outscored UCLA 36-34 in the paint) to an inability to defend without fouling (UCLA had 24 fouls, and both Thomas Welsh and GG Goloman spent the majority of the game in foul trouble). The team at times can just seem so uninterested in trying, and that comes down from the leaders as well - late in the game, Welsh got caught ball-watching and ended up in no-mans land, then compounded the problem by fouling the cutting man to give Creighton a 3-point play.

UCLA’s offense was fine in this game - 89 points is pretty good, and the Bruins shot 44.1% from the field. But they also can’t shoot 3s with any consistency yet (6-23 from distance), and that has hurt UCLA’s overall flow, as you can tell this team wants to utilize similar concepts from last year, but opposing teams don’t really have a need to respect UCLA’s outside game (outside of Thomas Welsh, apparently).

The problems shown in this game could be compounded, though, as UCLA has to turn around and play the loser of Baylor/Wisconsin tomorrow. Going 0-2 wouldn’t be a disaster, but the way they lose could be a huge sign of how this season could shake out.

Aaron Holiday led the Bruins in scoring with 25 points, and assists with 7. Thomas Welsh led the team with 13 rebounds. Marcus Foster led all scorers with 23 points.

3 Takeaways

  1. Player of the Game: Prince Ali - Ali really did have his best game as a Bruin here. 18 points on 5-9 shooting, including 2-5 from distance, was pretty good, but Ali also cleaned up his free throw shooting, going 6-8 from the line after a rough start to the season. Ali provided a spark off the bench, and really outplayed Jaylen Hands for the vast majority of this game.
  2. The freshman look like freshman - UCLA fans were absolutely spoiled last year by the combination of Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu, because UCLA’s current crop of true freshman just aren’t at that level yet. Jaylen Hands was miserable in this game, going 2-8 from the field and only adding 2 assists. Kris Wilkes turned it on in the second half, but that still left him 6-12 from the field and 0-4 from distance. Chris Smith has all the potential in the world, but in this game he ended up forcing too much, ending the game with 7 points on 2-7 shooting. Steve Alford needs to prove his coaching worth and get these guys up to speed quickly.
  3. UCLA still can’t defend the 3 - Creighton’s poor shooting masks an inherent flaw with UCLA’s defensive strategy, because UCLA was consistent in allowing the Bluejays to take open looks from distance all night. UCLA’s man defense too often leads to UCLA’s slow frontcourt to try and defend shooters on the outside, which leads to easy baskets, while the zone defense consistently has a problem with leaving shooters open in the corner (aka the most efficient outside shot in basketball). If Alford wants to prove his defensive bonafides, he needs to address this flaw quickly.

UCLA plays the loser of Baylor versus Wisconsin tomorrow.

Go Bruins.