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UCLA Blows Huge Lead, Loses to Michigan 78-69

A complete collapse in the 2nd half doomed the Bruins.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA had a 15 point lead at one point.

That’s all I can really think about in the aftermath of this game, as UCLA completely blew a 2nd half lead to lose to Michigan 78-69 in OT.

There aren’t many words I can really use to describe this one except to call it a systemic failure. UCLA couldn’t get scoring from anyone outside of Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, who were the only two Bruins in double figures. The Bruins also couldn’t stop turning the ball over, led by Aaron Holiday’s 7 turnovers. Execution down the stretch was suspect at best, especially the concerted effort to not let Thomas Welsh touch the ball. No, seriously, UCLA ran multiple plays with guys like Prince Ali and Kris Wilkes dribbling into traffic, and GG Goloman shot a three. Yet Welsh barely touched the ball.

The easiest, and correct, scapegoat for this loss would be Steve Alford, because UCLA looked completely unprepared to close out this game. There was no real offensive movement, and again the ability to not get Thomas Welsh the ball should be unforgivable.

Let’s analyze that inbounds play with UCLA up 64-63 real fast. Michigan had just called timeout, so this was a set play by the Bruins. And that play? An inbounds to Kris Wilkes, who then passed it to Goloman before he was fouled (and luckily was fouled because he almost lost the ball). Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, UCLA’s two best free throw shooters, did not touch the ball, as instead two of UCLA’s worst did. That’s just bad situational coaching no matter how you slice it.

But I also need to point out the poor play of Aaron Holiday down the stretch. For as good as Aaron was for much of this game, his late-game play was an absolute nightmare. Holiday had to play with the ball in his hands so much because the rest of the lineup was a nightmare, but that still shouldn’t excuse that many drives with no purpose, let alone ignoring Thomas Welsh for as long as he did.

If you want silver linings, this was the first true road game for a mostly-inexperienced and shallow team. Alex Wulff played minutes in non-garbage time, which speaks to that lack-of depth. And Thomas Welsh was the best player on the floor. Too bad he didn’t get the touches he clearly deserved.

And, if you want a real silver lining, UCLA’s defense for much of this game was really good! I attribute Michigan’s late run as much to fatigue than anything else, but UCLA had held the Wolverines to a sub 35% shooting percentage in the first half, and honestly if UCLA wasn’t committed to turning the ball over repeatedly, the Bruins could have put up a huge halftime lead.

But they didn’t, and now UCLA needs to dig deep and regroup, because a good Cincinnati team is coming to Pauley next weekend.

Aaron Holiday led the Bruins with 27 points and 7 assists, while Thomas Welsh led the team in rebounds with 10. Moritz Wagner led the Wolverines with 23 points.

3 Takeaways

  1. Player of the Game: Thomas Welsh - Who else would it be? 22 points, 10 rebounds, perfect from 3, clean on defense. This was Welsh’s coming-out party on a national stage, and it’s a shame that the rest of the UCLA cast couldn’t help him get the win.
  2. Biggest deficiency: Turnovers - Ok, there were a lot of deficiencies, but 20 turnovers is awful no matter how you spin it, and this was a complete team effort. Lots of traveling, offensive fouls, and the like kept Michigan in this game early, and Michigan’s late run was keyed by more than a few UCLA turnovers. If I have to point at the most egregious one, Holiday’s late turnover where he lazily threw a pass to Welsh only to have it stolen for an easy layup to make the game 64-63 was a microcosm of the late game.
  3. Also bad: Offense from everyone - Thomas Welsh is clearly exempt from this, and I’ll go ahead and remove Aaron Holiday (27 points is still a lot) and GG Goloman (only shot 5 times, and went 3-5 so mostly did what he needed to on that end when called upon), but everyone else was an issue. Kris Wilkes had 6 points and looked like he completely lacked confidence in anything on the offensive end. Prince Ali had 3 points on 1-5 shooting. The bench finished with 4 points combined, and all of those came from Jaylen Hands, who was 1-6 from the field. Yes it’s a road game, and yes all of those guys were playing in their first true road game in college in 2 years, but that just can’t happen. The time to step up and show some talent is now.

UCLA next plays next Saturday when Cincinnati comes to town. Tip-off is set for 12:30 PST.

Go Bruins.