A lot of people are missing the point of yesterday’s loss. Some act like this is what always happens under Alford. Actually, no, that’s not true as Ben Bolch of the LA Times points out:
There was no shortage of regrets after the Bruins wilted in the final minutes, suffering their first setback at home against a mid-major opponent since they dropped their season opener against Monmouth in November 2015.
Alford’s Bruins went 9 of 24 from the foul stripe in the second half, committed seven turnovers to just four assists, and missed 11 of their final 14 shots from the field.
UCLA’s defense allowed several open back-door cuts down the stretch.
“It was bad defense on our end,” said redshirt junior Prince Ali, who scored 10 points, all in the second half. “The coaches did not tell us to do that. We pressed up. It was a great draw by them – they cleared the entire lane out – and we should have noticed that.” . . .
With a four-point lead at the 8:15 mark of the second half, UCLA missed a chance to extend its advantage by missing seven of eight free throws. UCLA, which entered the game as the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference, missed 11 free throws in the final eight minutes.
And, of course, there was the last play. Bolch writes:
Alford called timeout to set up a play that was supposed to involve Cody Riley taking the inbounds pass and throwing it to a sprinting Hands for the final shot. But Riley misjudged where Hands was headed and threw the ball out of bounds, giving Belmont possession with one second left.
The other factor was coaching. Alford, to his credit, took the blame for the loss:
This is on me. I did a really poor job this week of trying to manage tasks. Probably worked them too hard. I didn’t like our energy, our attention to detail, our enthusiasm, and that all falls squarely on my shoulders. Really poor job of getting them ready.
I actually disagree. I mean it is nice that Alford is not saying his team is too young or blaming them. But that is not why UCLA lost. The first reason is the lack of poise, especially at the free throw line. Look, if UCLA makes 60% they win. But the second reason is Belmont Bruins Coach Byrd is a great coach and he did what great coaches do. He adjusted. UCLA did a good job against Belmont on defense behind the three-point line in the second half and Belmont was only 3-15. So, Byrd adjusted. The Belmont Bruins website recaps the game:
The [Belmont] Bruins executed with surgical precision in the final three minutes of the game, running Byrd play designs to perfection.
Windler and Muszynski teamed up on a seamless screen and roll slam to push Belmont back ahead 69-67 with 2:00 left.
Jaylen Hands, though, hit a three to give UCLA the lead. Again, coaching and poise matter. The Belmont website adds:
As easy as it would have been to be deflated following the sequence, Belmont confidently worked the ball into the frontcourt, ran the clock, and delivered another defining moment in program history.
Murphy lofted a perfectly timed pass along the baseline to McClain who swooped in and scored at the basket with 2.3 seconds left to give Belmont a 73-72 edge.
UCLA almost lost to Notre Dame despite a good defensive effort when Notre Dame went zone in the second half last week. Belmont adapted to UCLA playing the three well by going backdoor. Mark Whicker writes over at the Orange County Register:
“We beat North Carolina a few years ago and it was the same thing, they missed a lot of free throws,” Byrd said. “When you’re Belmont and you’re playing teams like this, you need a little help. But we’ve won enough games over the years that our team expects to win in these situations. They’re not going to get too rattled.”
UCLA coach Steve Alford, who never missed this many free throws in a month, knew the essence of Belmont, which was 7-1 coming in and was averaging over 92 points. It’s likely UCLA fans won’t be quite as circumspect.
It’s also possible UCLA will run through the Pac-12, for whatever that’s worth. It has impressive size and depth, and Hands and Wilkes should be all-conference players.
Talent usually makes the difference, but not always. But the real story is that the Belmont Bruins have a great coach, while UCLA has Steve Alford.
I can’t even say “Go Bruins” since the better coached Bruins won yesterday. I can only add that I predicted this.