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UCLA Struggles but Eventually Puts Away South Dakota 85-82

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Things did not improve against the Coyotes.

NCAA Basketball: South Dakota at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA trailed 36-33 at the half. They won 85-82. Honestly, that should tell you everything you need to know.

For UCLA, they needed a great performance in this game to show they still had a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. The first half was not a great performance by any stretch. The second half (for most of it) actually was, until UCLA once-again showed they have difficulties putting a team away late. Honestly, I had started to write this postgame with about 15 minutes left, which was obviously my fault, as I assumed UCLA was going to put away a bad team.

Let’s talk about the first half first, before circling back. The first half was awful. UCLA was losing at the half, and were outrebounded 24-13 in the half, with the offensive rebounding differential sitting at 9-1 in favor of the Coyotes at one point. I personally am a fan of multiverse theory, but I find it hard to believe there exists a universe where UCLA getting outrebounded, especially on the offensive glass, that badly by South Dakota is not considered a bad thing. The Bruins shot fine in the half, but their defense failed them repeatedly, especially when it came to defending Matt Mooney, who had 17 points in the half on 8-13 shooting. Thomas Welsh actually led the team in points at the half with 8 points, but 6 of his 7 shots in the first half came from distance, with him only hitting two of them. South Dakota seemed determined to follow the Cincinnati model of trying to shut down Welsh while letting the rest of the Bruins implode, but with a twist of letting him just shoot from distance. Welsh is a good shooter, but he’s also the best rebounder on the team by a mile, and leaving him that far out makes it much easier to clean up on the boards.

The second half actually began much better. The Bruins played more aggressively on the defensive end, which led to some quick transition points, but it wasn’t until a 17-3 run starting at the 15:37 mark of the second half that UCLA really started to pull away. The Bruins led by as much as 24 with 5:01 left, which is, of course, when everything bad started to happen.

It’s fair to say that UCLA, 11 games into the season, has no idea how to close out games. This was obvious against Michigan, it was obvious against Central Arkansas and Wisconsin, and it was obvious in this game. UCLA clearly has no plan of attack against the press - it even managed to fail at getting the ball inbounded multiple times in the final minute. If there was a silver lining, it’s that Aaron Holiday got to be the one to shoot free throws for most of the final stretch, and he ended the game 6-8 from the line, but turnovers again hurt the Bruins late.

This game had everything, and that includes an appearance from the SPTRs, who spent 8 minutes at the end of the game doing a review. Let me provide a quick play-by-play for you:

  • Jaylen Hands makes a second free throw to make the score 85-82 with 1.5 seconds left.
  • The ball is inbounded, and the buzzer goes off as the South Dakota player puts a shot up, so the game is over. South Dakota immediately contends that the clock was started early, and a quick replay appears to confirm that fact.
  • Thomas Welsh contends that he tipped the inbounds pass, and Steve Lavin begins backing him up on the commentary.
  • The referee crew rules that the inbound play will be redone. As the teams get set up, the refs come over to the commentary table to announce the call, at which point Steve Lavin tells the ref that Welsh touched the ball.
  • The refs decide to take another look at the play following Steve Lavin’s testimony. We’re now at minute 3 of this thing.
  • The referees have to come over to the commentary monitor, as they do not have a good angle of the inbound, I guess.
  • At this point I begin to crave the sweet release of death.
  • Cue 4 more minutes of the refs huddling, going back to a monitor for a second, talking to the coaches, huddling again, and repeating this cycle.
  • Finally, the refs decide that Welsh did indeed touch the ball, and the time keeper was right, and the game was over.
  • This was all unbelievably stupid.

To be fair to the Pac 12 refs, they shouldn’t have been in this position in the first place, because UCLA should not have been in this position. A competently-run team, with this talent level, would have put South Dakota away. 11 games into the season, the youth excuse really begins to fall flat, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that this team just has no idea what to do in situations like this.

During the Mora era of UCLA football, one of the key complaints of the team was that the team lacked an identity, which was true, but I don’t think UCLA basketball under Alford lacks an identity. This team clearly has an identity, and that is of an underachieving, undisciplined mess that is going to struggle to win games in Year 5.

And now they get to go to New Orleans to play Kentucky. Oh boy.

Thomas Welsh led the Bruins with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Aaron Holiday led the way with 5 assists. Matt Mooney led the Coyote with 23 points.

3 Takeaways

  1. Player of the Game: GG Goloman - You can make an argument for Welsh here (and his 19 points was a nice bounce-back from last Saturday) but Goloman was the first Bruin to make it to double digit points, and he was only 7 points behind Welsh on 8 fewer shots. Goloman was an efficient 4-6 from the field, and was surprisingly great from the line, going 4-5 on free throw attempts. In addition, his 7 rebounds tied his season high. While Holiday and the rest struggled for most of the game, Goloman was solid, and more than any other Bruin he did what he needed to against an outmatched opponent.
  2. Problem: Rebounds - You saw those numbers, right? Well, let me repeat them: UCLA was outrebounded 45-37 by South Dakota, and lost the offensive rebounding game 13-7. Not good. Not good at all. Part of this is due to Welsh shooting from outside so often (he ended up with 7 shots from 3, along with his usual handful of 15-18 footers) but South Dakota was simply outhustling UCLA to many of those rebounds. UCLA outrebounded the Coyotes 24-21 in the second half, but it’s still not a great sign going forward.
  3. My kingdom for a press break - UCLA would have had more breathing room if, at some point, they had learned how to beat a press. The Bruins struggled to merely inbound the ball, and were regularly turning the ball over late in the backcourt, leading to easy points for the Coyotes. At some point, I fully expect some Pac 12 team to just press UCLA the entire time and cruise to a victory.

UCLA next plays on Saturday, with a game against the Kentucky Wildcats in New Orleans. The 5th game in 4 years against John Calipari’s squad is scheduled to tip off at 1:00 PM PST.

Go Bruins!