Really, you could have seen this coming from a mile away.
In one corner, you had a resurgent UCLA Bruins team, which had looked more focused since the firing of Steve Alford (a thing that still happened, in case you forgot) but was playing the 2nd half of a road trip, and which had won games despite a resurgence of some bad tendencies. In the other corner, you had the Oregon State Beavers, who didn’t have nearly the same level of star power as the Bruins, but were playing a more cohesive level of team basketball and were in front of a raucous home crowd.
So, it shouldn’t be shocking that the Bruins struggled for most of the game and ran out of gas, eventually losing 79-66. Disappointing? Sure, especially when the Bruins had clawed back to take a two-point lead five minutes into the second half, but not unexpected.
Again, it should be noted that, despite the good feelings the home sweep of the Bay Area schools provided and the miracle come-from-behind victory over Oregon on Thursday, this team is still a Steve Alford-coached squad. By that, I mean that it didn’t really matter who took over as interim head coach, because no one was going to break all of the bad habits that had grown under Alford in such a short amount of time. Kris Wilkes is still out here playing hero ball because that’s what he was coached to do under Alford, and it should be noted that he’ll end up with the emptiest 21-point performance of the year, going a ghastly 8 of 22 from the field and scoring nine of those points in the final two minutes after the Beavers had stretched their lead to 18 in the meantime. The offensive system, in general, is a hodgepodge of terrible that almost refuses to utilize UCLA’s size down low. Moses Brown and Cody Riley went a combined 5 of 8 from the field, with barely more FG attempts combined than Chris Smith had by himself. The defense is still full of gaping holes in its zone because that was the system in place, and the most you could reasonably expect an interim coach to do in this situation is get the players to play with more intensity, which, to be fair, Bartow definitely has done.
The roster construction is still a nightmare, with the pre-season loss of Tyger Campbell depriving the Bruins of the only true PG on the roster. Jaylen Hands is a combo guard in the mold of an Aaron Holiday and he’s just being asked to do too much considering his skill set. The lack of ball handlers has led to Chris Smith being turned into a backup combo guard, something he definitely is not suited for, as his four turnovers and generally scattered play showcased. The guy who could potentially fill that hole, David Singleton, is a true freshman who can get lost at times and doesn’t yet have the presence to take over and lead the team.
I think the most interesting aspect of this loss has been the amount of blame being tossed Murray Bartow’s way and I’m honestly unsure of what people were expecting. He wasn’t named the interim coach because it was believed he could take the team to a championship, but rather because he had head coaching experience and the program needed someone to get them through the season while the search for a new head coach proceeded. That’s really it. Expecting him to be a miracle worker is perhaps asking too much and maybe some perspective is needed on that front.
Since I’m now in the business of handing out perspective in the aftermath of another road loss, here’s a simple statement: nothing that happens this year matter anymore. Sure, winning the Pac-12 would be nice, even if the conference is as bad as it’s ever been, but this team is really just playing for pride more than anything else. The most important thing that could happen for UCLA already happened on December 30th. Now, we’re just waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 21 points and four assists. Moses Brown led the team in rebounds with nine. Stephen Thompson Jr. and Ethan Thompson both tied for the team lead for the Beavers with 17 points apiece.
1. Player of the Game: David Singleton
I don’t know. He was probably the most in control player for the Bruins and I think I’d like to see a lineup of Singleton-Hands-Ali-Wilkes-Brown to start games going forward, if only because Singleton has shown the best ability to play within a competent offensive system at this point.
2. Issue of the Game: Shooting
If you were looking for a game-specific reason for the loss, it was the shooting of the Bruins. UCLA’s defense was...fine. Not great, but fine. The problem was the Bruins just could not hit a shot to save themselves. The facs that they were 24 of 63 (38.1%) from the field and 10 of 21 (47.6%) from the line point to a team that lacks solid shooting. So, if this team can’t get things to drop in the paint or get ridiculously hot from deep, they’re in trouble.
3. It Would Be Nice if Bartow Taught Them How to Run a Fast Break, Though
Welcome to Dimitri’s Personal Gripe Corner, where I watched this team attempt to run a fast break in the dumbest way possible multiple times. It goes back to that Alford Hero Ball thing, where guys on the fast break look to get theirs rather than make the smart pass for an easy basket. UCLA only got six points off of 11 Beaver turnovers compared to 13 OSU points off of 14 UCLA turnovers. So, while it wasn’t the clear reason they lost, it was the thing that led me to drink fastest.
UCLA returns to Los Angeles for their next game on Saturday, when they take on their crosstown rival Southern Cal at the Galen Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 pm PT.