UCLA (6-2) logged assists on eight of its first nine baskets while building a double-digit lead it held for most of a drama-free game. The Bruins were also committed defensively, holding Loyola Marymount to 29% shooting, and avoided lengthy lulls while handing the Lions (8-1) their first loss of the season.
There were three keys to the game. The first was defense. The Bruins played good defense against a patient team on offense. Ryan Smith describes it for the Daily Bruin:
The Bruins rode their best defensive effort of the season to a second straight victory....
UCLA clogged the paint early and often, forcing the Lions to shoot over its length on the perimeter. Bruins coach Steve Alford said they put an emphasis on shutting down guard James Batemon – the Lions’ leading scorer – since he did not trust Batemon to beat UCLA from the outside.
Batemon struggled to do much of anything on Sunday, being held to just seven points on 2-of-14 shooting and a 0-of-5 night from deep. As a team, LMU finished the night with a 29 percent shooting percentage and just two players made 3s on 16 attempts from beyond the arc.
The Bruins had a game plan on defense and executed it. After the game, Steve Alford explained:
We thought Batemon had to score at his average or more for them to have a legit chance of getting us [at home]. I thought Prince did a really good job on him at the start, and as we rotated people the bench did a really good job on him and made things really hard on him.
Ali had a good game on defense but was helped by the entire team. Chris Smith spoke about how Ali and the whole team put pressure on Batemon:
Coach [Alford] told us to just pressure him 24/7. Whoever was on him, make sure that you don’t let him get the ball back if you can. If you’re switching off on him, make sure to pressure him; don’t make him feel good. We were just trying to get him out of his comfort zone that whole game. That’s what we did. Everybody who guarded him did a great job.
This is a nice development after UNC’s White and LBSU’s Booker basically got whatever shot they wanted against UCLA.
The second key is the fact that the Bruins now have a point guard. Jaylen Hands was very good and he made the right decisions. The offense was better than at any time last year despite the fact that UCLA missed a lot of open threes. Thuc Nhi Ngyuen writes about how Jaylen Hands looked like a real point guard:
The sophomore from San Diego has had 30 assists in the past three games. To Alford, it shows Hands, one of many young players the Bruins are relying on this season, is finally starting to listen.
“There’s a huge difference in hearing what I’m talking about or what I’m saying or what Coach (Murry) Bartow or Coach (Tyus) Edney or Coach (Duane) Broussard’s saying. Listening is a whole different trait and I think he’s done a really good job of listening,” Alford said. “He’s been a much better player when he’s been an assist-first guy and getting everybody involved and letting his points come.”
The Bruins (6-2) had eight assists on their first nine field goals, spurred by five assists from Hands. The 6-foot-3 point guard connected with center Moses Brown for three alley-oops in the first six minutes.
Those alley-oops really set the tone. That brings us to the last key. UCLA has set the tone before, but there have always been lulls and breakdowns. That wasn’t the case last night. Thuc Nhi Nyguen points this out:
The Bruins have consistently lamented their inability to piece together strong 40-minute performances this season. In the past four games, they were outscored by 6.3 points in the second half. On Sunday, they boosted their 12-point halftime advantage into an easy 24-point win.
Meanwhile, Ben Bolch’s conclusion included some hyperbole but last night was the best win this season by far:
[The Bruins had] what might have been their best victory of the season. The Lions entered the game ranked No. 25 nationally in the new NCAA Evaluation Tool that will be used to pick and seed teams for the NCAA tournament.
For maybe the first time all season, the Bruins looked like a team capable of making a sustained run come March.
I think that is a lot to take from a game against a WCC team. However, last night showed that this UCLA team can be very good on defense, Hands can be a Pac-12 level point guard, and the deep bench makes it easier to play 40 minutes.