I’m not sure how this always seems to happen, but once again I find myself having to write the post-game article following a bad UCLA loss. Most times, the loss leaves me angry enough that I can put together something coherent and rooted in actual basketball analysis. But this time? Honestly, I’m at a loss for words.
Just look at that statement for a bit. Let it roll around in your head, think about it. The UCLA men’s basketball team, the program that John Wooden built, that Ben Howland took to three straight Final Fours just over a decade ago, a team that routinely brings in top 10 recruiting classes, just lost to Belmont. At Pauley Pavilion.
Seriously, what are we even doing here?
I can point out some obvious problems. For example, free throw shooting, where UCLA went an atrocious 12-28 from the charity stripe. Or from deep, where UCLA shot 8-28 (an abysmal 28.6%). 13 total turnovers. 12 assists. Going equal rebounding with Belmont despite the height advantage.
Or, in a more general sense, the fact that Belmont was able to play an even game on the road against UCLA. Again, I have no idea how to talk about this game. Words have failed me.
Credit where it’s due should go to Belmont, who went down by double digits early but did not waiver, didn’t panic, but continued to play their game. It should come as no surprise to casual UCLA fans that an opponent looked like a more well-coached team, nor should it come as a shock to know that UCLA blew that early lead and let an opponent back into a game. Belmont was not exceptionally good in this game - they shot 39.7% from the field, and from deep they only hit 11 of their 32 attempts, but their 19 assists (compared to 12 for UCLA) stand out, as did a great performance from Kevin McClain.
But UCLA just could not get out of its own way. The free throws, obviously, stand out, but consider that Moses Brown only had 6 points, and only got 2 shots all game. Prince Ali, meanwhile, is out here going 2-8 from the field, while Chris Smith went 2-7. Kris Wilkes had 20 points in the game, but 19 of those came in the first half; in the second, he went 0-5 from the field and only had 1 point on a FT (of which he missed 3 others). Even the minute distribution is questionable; Jules Bernard and David Singleton, both freshmen expected to contribute a solid amount of minutes, had 12 and 9 minutes respectively, while Jaylen Hands sat a grand total of 4 minutes.
Maybe the most damning thing I can say right now is that none of this is surprising, because Steve Alford is still the UCLA coach. You can set your watch by the mere concept of an Alford-coached UCLA team having a disappointing performance. UCLA should be the crown jewel of the Pac-12, and competitive on a national level, but under Alford, UCLA has become Just Another Program.
Actually, I’ve finally found some words regarding this game: Why is Steve Alford still here?
Kris Wilkes led UCLA with 20 points. Jaylen Hands led the team with 7 assists, while Moses Brown led the team with 9 rebounds. Kevin McClain led Belmont with 20 points.
- Player of the Game: Red Panda - I’m going to put it this way: no UCLA Bruin earned PotG honors in this game. Kevin McClain of Belmont probably comes close, if we’re honest. But I’m the one who gets to write this postmortem, so I’m going to highlight Red Panda, who finally got to perform at Pauley. She was actually scheduled to perform last year, but her unicycle was stolen in transit and the performance had to be cancelled. She wasn’t amazing today; from reports I’ve seen, she did drop at least 1 attempt. But she’s still incredibly talented, and honestly I just want to talk about something good for second here.
- Area of Concern: Free Throws - Honestly, you could throw a dart at the board and come up with a problem for this team, but if UCLA even hit FTs at a 68% rate in this game (roughly the NCAA average), they come away with the win. Seems simple enough.
- I just want to point something out - Despite what you may have heard, you are allowed to fire a coach during the season. No one would even blame you for doing it, Dan!
UCLA next plays on Wednesday, when they head on the road to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 PM PST.