Steve Alford’s Bruins are slowly-but-surely playing their way out of the NCAA tournament, a fact that was unthinkable heading into the season.
Cincinnati came into Pauley Pavilion, struggled early, but eventually started playing their game, which led to a 13 point halftime lead, and eventually an easy victory over the Bruins by the score of 77-63. This was, again, another bad performance from the Bruins, and a bad coaching job from Steve Alford.
The obvious reason UCLA lost was turnovers. UCLA entered the game averaging 13 turnovers a game, and had already beaten that mark at halftime with 15. The Bruins were cleaner in the second half, but 18 turnovers in a game is never going to cut it. Cincinnati ended up with 23 points off turnovers, which is a ridiculous number, and their 12 steals was due to equal parts aggressiveness on their part and carelessness by UCLA.
Cincinnati was also determined to keep UCLA’s best player, Thomas Welsh, as quiet in this game as possible, and they absolutely succeeded on that front. Thomas Welsh took his first shot attempt with 2:58 left in the first half. 17 minutes into the game! Even with Cincinnati’s attention to Welsh on the defensive end, UCLA struggled even looking towards Welsh, or running plays for their best player to get the ball. Welsh ended the game with 4 points on 2-7 shooting, and it was clear that by the time the second half rolled around, Welsh was completely out of the game on the offensive end. Not a great coaching job from Alford here.
There really aren’t any bright spots in this game. UCLA’s defense was “fine” - certainly it kept the Bruins in the game early despite their turnover issues, but in the second half the defense continually broke down. UCLA’s bench actually outscored Cincinnati’s, which isn’t something the Bruins have been able to say much this year.
But at this point, it looks like the UCLA offense is broken with no signs of being fixed anytime soon. The problem, in a macro sense, is that the coach who helped UCLA turn everything around last year went and got drafted #2 by the Lakers last summer, leaving behind Steve Alford and his broken offensive schemes. Aaron Holiday is not a point guard, and Jaylen Hands is not ready to have that level of expectations placed on him (though he did have a solid second half, which was nice to see).
I know Lavar Ball isn’t the most popular guy around these parts, but perhaps his greatest sin was having a son so talented that he saved Steve Alford’s job for a few more seasons.
With the loss, UCLA remains winless against teams with a winning record, and Kentucky represents the last chance UCLA has to put literally anything of worth on their resume before they head into conference season. Simply put, UCLA, in year 5 of the Steve Alford era, is on the outside looking in at an NCAA tournament berth, which is ridiculous.
Aaron Holiday led the Bruins with 17 points, while Thomas Welsh led the team with 4 assists (!) and 9 rebounds. Kyle Washington led the Bearcats with 19 points.
- Player of the Game: Nobody - I honestly could not give anyone on the Bruins high marks in this game. Holiday led the team in points, but he also only had a 5 points to 3 turnovers in the first half, and ended up with less assists than Thomas Welsh. Hands went off in the second half, but was a nightmare in the first. Welsh had 4 points. The closest was maybe Kris Wilkes, who had 12 points and 8 rebounds, but on 5-13 shooting. This just was not a good game from everyone.
- Big Issue: Turnovers - I couldn’t not mention this again down here. UCLA entered the game averaging 13 turnovers a game. That number is going up after the Bruins had 18 turnovers in this one. This team is showing no progress in cleaning things up - if anything, things are getting worse.
- Depth is not a factor - One of the excuses I’ve seen from people is that UCLA lacks depth this year. Except that has been a trademark of Steve Alford teams. Last year’s Bruins played with an 8 man rotation. The year before did the same thing. 2014-2015 ended up with a 7 man rotation after starting with an 8 man. Alford’s first year saw an 8 man rotation. This is not new, and anyone using depth as an excuse is being willfully stupid.
UCLA next plays on Tuesday with a home game against South Dakota. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM PST.