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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: The Bruin Bench Saves the Day Against LBSU

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For the first time during his tenure, Alford has deep and very good bench.

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at UCLA
Singleton earned the right to smile.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing I do when writing these roundups is check out Dimitri or Mark’s postgame. They always make good points. I can be too cynical at times and have old man disease (“they think that was good? They have forgotten when xx first did it”). So, it is always good to start there. But, last night, I would have given a different grade to the starting veterans on this team, a “D” for Wilkes, Hands, and Ali. The stats bear out that grade. In the plus/minus, Hands was minus six, Wilkes minus four, and Ali minus eight.

Let’s start with the first problem. The LA Times’ Blake Richardson quotes Steve Alford:

We had some guys not defend in the way we’re capable of defending in today’s game. And it almost hurt us,

My grade of D for Wilkes, Hands, and Ali would be, in part, ironic. They did not play D very well. They were awful at times. the UCLA Bruins made Long Beach State’s Deishaun Booker look like Stephen Curry as he scored a game high 31, most of it the first three quarters of the games. I doubt he will get 31 again this year.

But, as the old guy, let me point out some positive history. This may be the best bench Alford has ever had. As the Associated Press points out:

UCLA’s bench came up big during an eight-minute stretch in the second half Friday night.

The reserves keyed a 23-5 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 91-80 victory over Long Beach State in a nonconference game at Pauley Pavilion.

If I was doing a Dimitri-style review, I would have given UCLA player of the game honors to David Singleton. Singleton, Chris Smith and Jules Bernard were tied at a game high +19 in the plus/minus stat. After the game, David Singleton spoke about the team’s depth:

When we’re on the bench, we pick up our squad. We pick up the starters. We try to motivate them. When we get in, we just play hard. Chris [Smith] and me—we’re always together in practice. We’re always communicating and talking to each other, so we come out and we’re telling each other, “Let’s play hard. Let’s play our hearts out.”

But, back to the starters. The problems on defense were not the only problems. UCLA’s starters also tried to blow it late in the game. The Daily Bruin’s Sam Connon writes:

No. 21 UCLA men’s basketball (2-0) narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of Long Beach State (0-1) on Friday night, winning 91-80. The Bruins turned the ball over before reaching half court on three straight possessions in the final minutes of the game, and coach Steve Alford said there were plenty of people to blame for his team’s inability to break the 49ers’ full-court press.

Steve Alford took part of the blame, but let’s be candid Hands dribbled to the corners and was trapped and Wilkes had an awkward turnover where he, literally, did not look up and ran into someone.

A lot of our issues were with our veterans not taking care of the basketball. They’ve got to look at tape, but I think some of it is on me too. Because of our injuries, the last few practices have been all drills but very little contact because we’re not in a position where we can afford more injuries. Sometimes it’s hard to emulate a full-court press in those situations. I thought they [Long Beach State] did a good job. They came at us hard and we didn’t handle it very well.

Yes, Moses Brown played well, but he will be the story often times this year. He affects the game in so many ways, but last night was about the guys on the bench. The bench of sophomore Smith and freshmen Bernard and Singleton was who won the game for UCLA. As the AP further noted:

The backups combined for 28 points that helped UCLA take an 81-64 lead with 5:08 left. David Singleton came off the bench to hit two 3-pointers as part of his 10 points in the game.

“They really gave us energy because we got stops,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “They got us out into transition.”

Alford has a lot of options now. If the starters and vets falter, the bench is a legitimate option as was seen last night.


Go Bruins!