It’s a tale as old as time: people from Los Angeles go on a trip to Vegas, and go on a trip that plays out as a slow-motion car wreck, as almost everything that can go wrong usually does. That’s what essentially happened to the Bruins this Thanksgiving weekend, as they went 0-2 at the Las Vegas Invitational, the second coming at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels by the score of 94-78
For one half, at least, the Bruins looked good. UCLA started out hot from the field, and engaged on defense, as they raced out to an early lead that they would hold through a 46-41 halftime lead. The impressive part was they did this without the help of Moses Brown, who picked up two early fouls to start the game and was a non-factor in the first half, only playing 4 minutes. To back him up, Cody Riley put up an encouraging outing, playing clean basketball (important since frontcourt depth isn’t great beyond Brown and Riley) and vacuuming up 6 rebounds to go with 7 points in the half.
The team in general played well for that first half. The ball was moving on offense, and Jaylen Hands in particular made all of the right decisions. His 8 assists in the first half was equal to the total assists for the Bruins in the game against Michigan State. Kris Wilkes was also incredibly-efficient, scoring 12 points on 3-5 shooting, including 5-6 from the FT line. And the Bruin defense, while not exceptional by any stretch, at least did a good job of making the Tar Heels fight for points, holding the Tar Heels to 44.1% from the field.
Of course, anyone who has watched this team so far this year (or any Steve Alford coached team in general) could guess what would happen next. UNC came out of the half looking like a different squad, while the Bruins stopped doing all of the good things they had done in the first half. Again, Moses Brown got fouls early and often that again limited him to 4 minutes in the half; simply-put, this is basically the performance that makes you realize that Brown will probably be back next year, as he clearly has a lot of growing to do. After 8 first-half assists, Hands only had 1 assist in the second half (and the Bruins only had 5 total in the second half compared to 10 in the 1st), and the Bruins went from shooting 51.9% in the first half to a paltry 37.5% in the second. Credit should, of course, go to the Tar Heels, who absolutely turned up the defensive intensity in the second half, but UCLA did itself no favors by falling back on their worst habits in the second half. And the Tar Heels were able to capitalize on UCLA’s sloppy play, putting up 13 points off turnovers in the second half compared to only 5 in the first half.
Equally bad was the defensive effort. Part of it, again, goes to UNC actually hitting their open shots compared to the first half, but UCLA’s interior defense was awful in the second half, in part because the perimeter guys could not stay in front of their men. The Tar Heels were efficient with their possessions, putting up a ridiculous 1.514 PPP in the second half (compared to UCLA’s .889 in the second half), and that just can’t happen against a good team like UNC.
Oh yeah, and and then Kris Wilkes went down late in the game clutching his knee. It did appear to be cramps, as he reentered the game late, but it is something to potentially monitor going forward.
But really, none of this should be shocking to anyone who follows UCLA basketball. Steve Alford was again out-coached by an opposing coach, which is so regular you could set your watch by it, and UCLA, despite all of its talent, looked the part of a team that was lucky to be up at the half against a good opponent.
It’s year 6 of the Steve Alford era, and all he’s succeeded at doing is turn highly-rated recruiting classes into middle of the pack Pac-12 teams. Will no one rid us of this meddlesome coach?
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 22 points. Jaylen Hands had a team-high with 9 assists, while Cody Riley led the team with 9 rebounds. Coby White led the Tar Heels with 19 points.
- Player of the Game: Cody Riley - I could have given it to Wilkes for his offensive game, but Riley had one hell of a game considering the circumstances. With Moses Brown off the court for the majority of this game dealing with foul trouble, Riley had a strong showing, putting up 11 points and leading the team in rebounds with 9, while limiting his fouls throughout. UCLA’s frontcourt depth isn’t the best outside of Brown and Riley, so for Riley to have this type of outing is a good sign going forward.
- Area of Concern: Coaching - Ok, but seriously. One team came out hungry to start the second half, while the other came out flat. I’ll let you guess who was coaching which team.
- NCAA Bid in Jeopardy? - Here are some statements: The Pac-12 is (again) a weak conference that won’t help anyone’s bid this season. UCLA just went 0-2 against two high-profile opponents, with both losses coming by 16+ points. The Bruins only have a few more chances this year to get some resume-building wins with Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and Ohio State remaining on the schedule. At this point, UCLA’s margin for error has been cut drastically if it wants a bid in the NCAA tournament.
UCLA will head back to Los Angeles and regroup, and won’t play again until the 28th, when they host the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM PST.