Talk about a tale of two halves.
At halftime, the UCLA Bruins were down 36-28, and looked completely uninterested in competing against the Washington Huskies in any facet of the game. 20 minutes later, UCLA had managed to turn an 8 point deficit into a 21 point victory, as they ended the game on a 45-10 run to beat the Huskies 74-53.
The first half was a microcosm of all the issues that detractors have pointed out this season. The Bruins were soft on the boards, getting outrebounded 22-15 and getting dominated on the offensive boards. The UCLA offense struggled mightily against Washington’s zone defense, at times looking like a team that had never played against a zone before. and UCLA’s defense was disinterested, giving up easy looks at the basket, with the guard play in particular being a huge problem, as too often they allowed their Washington counterparts to easily drive into the lane and either make the correct pass or an easy shot at the rim. What’s more, UCLA’s two big stars were MIA, as Aaron Holiday (2 points, 1-6 shooting, 3 turnovers) and Thomas Welsh (5 points on 1-5 shooting, and only 3 rebounds) were incredibly quiet.
Then the second half happened.
After an early start where Washington extended their lead to 14 points, UCLA switched to an aggressive zone defense, and Washington never recovered. Over the final 16:59 of the game (just to be accurate), UCLA went on a 45-10 run. That’s ridiculous. Let me throw some other numbers at you right now:
- In the second half, Washington was held to 17.1% on their FGs, only making 6 of their 35 attempts.
- That also included 0 3-pointers, as Washington missed all 15 of their attempts in the second half, and almost all of them were contested.
- The Bruins outrebounded Washington 28-16 in the second half, which led to UCLA winning the overall rebounding battle 43-38.
On offense, the Bruins got much more aggressive, and it showed, as UCLA was able to get to the line a whopping 20 times in the second half (30 total in the game). This was also one of UCLA’s best FT shooting nights of the season, as the team combined to make 25 of their attempts at the charity stripe on the night.
And as noted, the upperclassmen showed up in the second half. Holiday had a slash line of 12 points/6 rebounds/4 assists in the second half, and Thomas Welsh was the anchor on the defensive end, as the zone allowed for him to better defend the paint, clean up the boards (9 rebounds in second half) and alter shots whenever Washington penetrated (this also happened with GG Goloman in, as he’s turned into a pretty respectable shot blocker, and had 3 in this game). Kris Wilkes continued his stretch of exemplary play, as he ended the game with 21 points, and went 5-6 from the FT line. And, in a comparison of UCLA’s offensive shift between halves, the Bruins ended the game with 11 assists - 8 of those came in the second half.
Credit should absolutely go to Steve Alford for the adjustments he made at halftime. UCLA came out of halftime much more energetic, and the switch to zone was a great tactical change that shifted momentum to UCLA. I even have to credit Alford’s late-game situational coaching, as he ran with Holiday/Welsh/Wilkes as a closing unit, while rotating Jaylen Hands/Prince Ali and Chris Smith/GG Goloman for offense/defense down the stretch.
But the dominance of that second half means we also need to talk about how unprepared UCLA looked to start the game, which also falls on Steve Alford’s shoulders. Alford clearly pressed the right buttons at halftime, but the initial game plan left a ton to be desired, and even led me to question if UCLA had even bothered to scout Washington beforehand. And I think you can absolutely put some of that second half on a young Huskies team being on the second leg of their first conference road trip. Washington is much better than I anticipated coming into the season, but Mike Hopkins really has things looking good in Seattle.
But I think what we should take away from this game, more than anything, is that second half, because it showed exactly how good UCLA can be if they focus on it. The Bruins are much better defensively this year, and the defensive effort between halves was night and day. In addition, this is still a great collection of athletes with some great upperclassmen leaders in Holiday and Welsh, and that can take a team far. The key will be whether UCLA can keep this level of effort up all year; hell, this upcoming road trip is going to be a great test for the freshman.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 21 points. Thomas Welsh led the Bruins with 12 rebounds, while Aaron Holiday led the way with 5 assists. Noah Dickerson led the Huskies with 14 points.
- Player of the Game: Kris Wilkes - Talk about turning on when you need to. Wilkes has been great in the past three games, and this one was no different. 21 points on 7-13 shooting, and a great 5-6 from the FT line for a guy who has been around 55% on the season. Throw in 5 rebounds and a clean game on defense, and it really feels like Wilkes has fully adapted to the college game. That’s an extremely positive development if the Bruins want to challenge for the conference title.
- Point of emphasis: Effort - This is more of a first-half thing, but UCLA really came out flat for the entire first half, and this is not the first time that has occurred. UCLA has relied on their talent to bail them out of games earlier in the season, but with that talent level rising as they enter Pac-12 play, the Bruins can’t afford to be flat any more.
- Credit to Alford - Again, I thought this was a great coaching job in the second half by Steve Alford. The switch to zone completely changed the game, and he got the Bruins to be much more aggressive on offense. We’ve talked about the players having to learn to play with each other, but one underrated aspect of that has been Alford learning what kind of team he has, and adjusting his coaching to reflect that. It’s been a bit slower than we all would have liked, but UCLA seems to be figuring things out at the right time, which is a positive sign.
UCLA heads out on their first road trip of the conference season, with a game against the Stanford Cardinal on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM PST.
And Happy New Year!