UCLA’s defense was ugly for a stretch in the first half of their 84-78 loss at Utah. Utah shot lights out in the first half, as the AP points out.
Utah torched the nets in the first half, making eight of its final nine shots and shooting 18 of 28 (64 percent) from the field in the first 20 minutes. That included 7-of-13 shooting behind the arc. Utah needed it to rally for a 47-40 lead after UCLA took an early lead.
This has been a big problem all year, as Steve Alford admitted:
Yeah, we had a tough stretch in the first half where we did not defend very well. . . . Utah shot 60-something percent in the first half. You’ve got give them credit because they made a lot of shots. [David] Collette was 9-for-9, I think, and Van Dyke was 6-for-12. We just let a couple of those guys get away from us. We just cannot defend that way. I think that this has been a team that, you know, for 30 to 32 minutes has proven that they can really defend. But what they’ve got to mature into is a team that’ll be able to do that for 40 minutes. And we do not always do that.
More on how ugly UCLA’s defense was for that bit from Alford:
“Not very good during that stretch. That’s a stretch in the game where I didn’t like anything about our defense. We have to got to figure out why, and we’ve talked about it. We have talked about it, very consistently throughout the year, that 30 to 32 minutes, we have the ability to defend at a high level. But it’s those eight minutes that always get us. It got us again. It got us at Arizona State, and then it got us again today.”
Or, more succinctly in the LA Times, Kris Wilkes says:
”Our defense as a whole, it got pretty bad there,” UCLA forward Kris Wilkes said. “We started off, our offense was compensating for our defense, but as it went on we started missing shots on offense and we didn’t play defense.”
UCLA rallied in second half led by, who else, Aaron Holiday, as the Salt Lake Tribune reports:
However, Bruins star point guard Aaron Holiday (23 points) seemed poised to almost single-handedly rally his team. He scored nine straight points for the Bruins during one stretch and his drive and kick to Thomas Welsh for a corner 3-pointer pulled the Bruins within 70-69 with 2:50 remaining.
The offense was not that pretty either, except for doing a good job on the boards as the Daily Bruin points out:
The Bruins won the rebounding battle 38-30, but issued 13 turnovers to the Utes’ 10. Senior forward GG Golomon and freshman guard Jaylen Hands each had three turnovers.
This game, thoug,h should not be a surprise, as ESPN points out (emphasis added):
UCLA: The Bruins inability to win on the road may end up knocking them out of the NCAA Tournament picture. UCLA fell to 2-6 in true road games after shooting just 28 of 66 (42 percent) from the field against Utah. The Bruins endured too many cold stretches to capitalize on a 16-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
Bruin Report Online has an article behind their paywall, but the headline itself is enough of a troubling fact.
How Tough Is It To Complete a Pac-12 Road Sweep?
UCLA’s loss to Utah confirmed that the Bruins would finish another year without a single Pac-12 road sweep.
UCLA has only swept a Pac-12 road trip three times in the Alford era and that is only with Lonzo Ball as I detailed here. The loss to Utah guarantees that a road sweep won’t happen this season for the fourth time in five years.
There has been some hate thrown around here on Joe Lunardi and the various people who try to predict the tournament. But as the Salt Lake Tribune points out, this was a game both teams knew they must win.
Wedgedin the crush of the pressure-packed din of the Huntsman Center, [Utah Coach Larry] Krystkowiak’s desperate men did their battle against UCLA’s desperateBruins. Desperation was here, there, everywhere,. Not in thegloom-and-doom, pity-my-poor-pathetic-soul sense, rather in thehungry-and-urgent, my-supply-of-life-giving-oxygen-will-choke-me-out-if-I-don’t-get-my-tank-refilled sense. . . .
Krystkowiak said afterward the whole affair wasn’t life or death, but deep down he knew UCLA had to win this game, and so did Utah. Not simply on account of the numerical, but because of perception. The Bruins came in at 10-5 in conference play, 19-8 overall, and the Utes stood at 9-6, 17-9 in total. On both sides, there were seeding considerations on the line for the coming Pac-12 tournament.
Indeed, nearly 30 games in, Utah and UCLA had achieved this much in the run-up to March: the dreaded bubble status. Each team had exhibited enough good to be in the conversation for inclusion and enough bad to be left on the cold side of the door. And with just a couple more regular-season games remaining, this was no occasion to fall again toward the latter.
As Alford’s teams do on the road, they lost. If UCLA misses the tournament, it won’t be because of the Utah loss against a solid team on the road. It will be because of a bad loss to Colorado at home, letting Stanford shoot a tying three-pointer when they could have fouled, losing to a bad Oregon State team, not playing defense for 40 minutes, etc. This is not a one-game problem.
No one can credibly argue that UCLA should be in the tournament right now. They have two more games and/or winning the Pac-12 tournament to change that narrative. But, right now, last year’s road wins are the fluke and this year is again showing that Alford can’t win on the road. There are two road games left for Alford to prove he can win on the road or it will be time for him to hit the road.