The 2019 edition of UCLA Bruins basketball has rarely played a complete game. Last night, the first two and half minutes against the Washington State Cougars were among the worse. But, after that terrible start, UCLA settled down for what one long-time Bruin observer called their best game of the year.
First, let’s let Ben Bolch of the LA Times describe the start:
No one had to say anything to Jaylen Hands when he took a seat on the bench less than 21⁄2 minutes into the game.
The UCLA point guard was yanked after the Bruins’ first five possessions went astray Wednesday night. There was a turnover, a charging foul, a missed shot, a flagrant-1 foul on Moses Brown and another turnover. Hands was responsible for two of the blunders, including one in which he stumbled on a drive to the basket and lost the ball out of bounds.
“I would have taken myself out too because I was wilding out,” Hands said. “I just knew I had to chill out and went back in and do what I do.”
The Orange County Register is too cheap to pay their excellent reporter Thuc Nhi Ngyuen to go to road games. However, her third tweet of the game summed up the calming influence that helped with the turnaround:
David Singleton— Thuc Nhi Nguyen (@thucnhi21) January 31, 2019
As Bruin Report Online’s publisher Tracy Pierson wrote in a story not behind a paywall:
The use of Singleton, too, by Bartow was critical. When UCLA was struggling to get untracked in the first half, Singleton’s presence settled down the team and got it executing so much better – and got the zone functioning better. He hit a couple of big threes, too, in the flow of the offense, and when that happens it tends to compel teammates to do the same – that is, take good shots in the flow of the offense.
Tracy thought UCLA played it’s best game of the season last night. He described what he felt was the key:
Here’s the novel idea of the year: Even though UCLA has some nice athletes, maybe it’s not a running team. It didn’t push the ball nearly as much in this game, and it had an overall calming, settling effect on the team. Without trying to push the ball at a frenetic pace and force shots in transition, UCLA’s collective mindset seemed to completely change. A real sense of good, sound basketball seemed to set in. According to the stat sheet, Washington State scored 18 points in transition and UCLA only 8 points. And UCLA committed just 11 turnovers.
I think Tracy might be underestimating how terrible Washington State is and how bad a coach Ernie Kent is. Washington State’s big man Pollard had no chance against any of UCLA’s bigs. Kent is one of the worst coaches in Pac-12 history and there is a reason they only have one win in Pac-12 play and are 1-9 in their last ten games against Pac-12 opponents. Of course, that one win came over the worst coach in Pac-12 history Wyking Jones of UC Berkeley.
In any case, while acknowledging Kent’s contribution to UCLA’s success, Pierson still loved the play last night:
No matter if it is coach Bartow’s intended influence, or coach Kent’s inadvertent influence, or a combination, this was the first truly watchable game the Bruins have played all year. Yeah, we know Washington State isn’t very good, and its defense is one of the worst in the conference. And we know Arizona isn’t much better. But in the last two games we’ve glimpsed a version of this UCLA team that might have a chance to achieve some real success for the remainder of the season. For the first time this season, that was real basketball. Still not great. But entirely decent. And if there’s more of it the remainder of the season, it could be, at the very least, some of the most watchable UCLA basketball in a long time.
Let’s see if the last two wins are because of UCLA’s improvement or just looking better against historical awful Pac-12 teams. The next game will go a long way to answering the question. The Washington Huskies are playing good basketball and UW’s Alaska Airlines Areas is a tough place to win on the road. If UCLA looks good against Washington, win or lose, then Pierson’s optimism may be merited.
Alternatively, it could just be a fluke. UCLA shot a 47% from three, 58% overall and 75% from the line. Can they repeat this sort of thing? The Bronx cheers of Thuc Nhi Nguyen could be more appropriate.
Sorry to sound so cynical, but I still will say....