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UCLA Men’s Basketball: Bartow & Bruins Talk About Upcoming Trip to Oregon

Pace of play and turnovers seemed to be the two common areas of discussion with Coach Bartow and the players.

NCAA Basketball: California at UCLA Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Murry Bartow takes the UCLA Bruins on his first road trip as the head coach, as the Bruins head to Oregon to take on the Oregon Ducks on Thursday at 6:00 pm PT and the Oregon State Beavers on Sunday at 7:00 pm PT.

Andy Katz’ March Madness 365 Interview

In addition to today’s UCLA interviews that took place before this morning’s practice, I wanted to share my thoughts on a very interesting interview that Coach Bartow did with Andy Katz’s March Madness 365 Podcast. I found the interview interesting in a couple of ways, with a couple of Bartow’s statements a little troublesome.

Early in the interview, Bartow shared the pleasantries in regards to the “heavy heart” he had in taking over for his friend, Steve Alford, and the relationship that not only Bartow had with Alford but also the relationship that both families had with each other.

As the interview progressed, Bartow also touched on the positives as well as the difficulties that his dad, Gene Bartow, had following in Coach Wooden’s footsteps at UCLA. This is where the interview segued into Andy Katz talking about the stresses, the pressures, and the difficulties that Katz must believe comes with the head coaching position at UCLA. This is where I struggled a little with the response that Bartow gave:

You’re under the magnifying glass. You’ve got to win and not just win, but, with all the banners hanging up in Pauley, you know, fans here have those great memories of a lot of Final Fours and a lot of national championships. So, a lot of tough jobs around the country, but this is a great job, it’s a great school, rich tradition, and they've obviously had a lot of success here, but it’s not an easy job.

This response from Bartow teeters on the tired cliche that is out there about UCLA’s fanbase and the perception that just because UCLA was winning national championships in the 60’s and 70’s, fans expect that same type of success now and it’s because UCLA fans have these wildly unrealistic expectations that the head coaching job at UCLA is “not an easy job.”

Yes, UCLA’s head coach is under a magnifying glass, but not as powerful of a magnifying glass as many people seem to think. In the year 2019, the vast majority of the UCLA fanbase just want a team that is well-coached, disciplined, constantly vying for and winning Pac-12 championships, and making deep runs into the tournament on a consistent basis. When those things do not happen, the fanbase is entitled to be unhappy and not be labeled as an unrealistic fanbase.

Andy Katz then asked a question of Bartow that centered around another highly reported issue with the UCLA coaching position, which is basically a lack of resources to compete with other top schools (e.g., salaries, cash strapped UC system, no plane, etc.). Once again, Bartow did not answer the question in a way that I would expect an interim coach to answer the question:

For any job to be a great job, you need everything going right. A lot of these jobs boil down to recruiting and you’ve got to get the right talent, the right players, and you’ve got to be a heck of a coach, don’t get me wrong. But a lot of it does come down to recruiting. So everything behind the scenes has to be right. I’m not saying it’s not here, but it’s just got to be right, charter planes, academics, everything’s got to be wired behind the scenes from a financial standpoint to make sure you can get done and do what you need to do. I think this is a great job, but it’s a hard job with the expectations the way they are.

There’s a lot to read between the lines here. Again, it could be just me, but this is not what I want an interim head coach at UCLA to be saying in an interview. This perception by Bartow obviously shows that, in his mind. some of the behind the scenes operations at UCLA are not “right” or conducive to competing with some of the other blue blood programs around the country. If that is indeed the case, then that needs to seriously be looked at by people above Bartow, but, given that Alford recruited well at UCLA, it seems at least out of place.

With Bartow’s background, he’s definitely earned the right to share his perspective on the UCLA coaching job since he now has the job, at least for now. However, Bartow doesn’t need to come out at this point and share those perspectives publicly, while also connecting those thoughts on the UCLA coaching position to the once again “unrealistic expectations” label that is freely given to the fanbase here at UCLA.

The remainder of the interview does get into some of Bartow’s thoughts on the current team, tweaks he’s made since becoming coach, grit issues, and some thoughts he has on the team as a whole, but I found the above quotes to be the most interesting in regards to the current coaching situation at UCLA.

Here is this week’s episode of March Madness 365. Jump ahead to the 10-minute mark for the start of Bartow’s interview.

Weekly Press Conference Interviews

Today before practice, Coach Bartow, Chris Smith, Kris Wilkes, and Prince Ali shared some words with the media.

Murray Bartow

Let’s begin things with head coach, Murry Bartow. Bartow started off the interview talking about the challenge of traveling up north to play the two Oregon schools. Bartow felt the Bruins had a good practice yesterday and he stressed the need for the Bruins to continue to play faster.

Of course, when the pace of play is brought up, the UCLA problem with turnovers goes hand-in-hand and Bartow addressed this.

Well, turnovers is a major, major concern, because Oregon, in their last three games, they’ve turned people over at about 18 a game and we just had 22 in our last game. So, that will be a huge part of this game that we can keep turnovers down and I think our spirit will be up. Our energy will be up. We’re going to play fast. We’re going to play with great speed, or certainly try to. That’ll be the game plan going in. But we do have to play fast, but efficient. We can’t turn the ball over, especially on the road. If you turn it over on the road, you really don’t give your team a great chance to win. So, turnovers for us and keeping those turnovers down will be a big part of this game.

Bartow also touched on the types of shots he wants the Bruins to take while playing this fast-paced style of play. He wants the Bruins to take shots in the paint or clean threes and he did say something that I found odd, Bartow said that any shot in between the two that he mentioned is “really not a great shot”. What? I am currently scratching my head. That seems to be flawed logic, as a shot just outside the paint statistically has a higher probability to go in than a shot 20 feet out, but I guess I could be wrong.

Thanks to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online for sharing Murry Bartow’s full interview.

Chris Smith

Next is Chris Smith, a player that many believe is one of the keys for UCLA as they move into the second week of Pac-12 Conference play. One change Bartow has made since taking over is the insertion of Smith into the starting lineup. In the interview, Smith touched on coming off the bench as opposed to starting. He mentioned the fact that, in a reserve role, he is tasked with bringing the energy that the starters have not been able to bring and, as a starter. he just tries to bring the same energy from the start just as if he were coming off the bench.

Smith also touched on an area that has been especially problematic for the Bruins including himself: turnovers. Smith is averaging 1.5 turnovers a game. He acknowledged that he can do better and he simply feels as if he just becomes careless with the ball.

Smith was also asked what he thinks is the biggest difference since Bartow has taken over.

Coach Bartow is a really caring guy. He really loves us and cares for us and that’s how he wants us to play with the same passion that he has for us and it was the same before, but, I mean, it’s just we’re winning now. I don’t’s not really much of a difference. It’s just we just won the last two games.

As a starter, Smith could be a major upgrade for the Bruins moving forward. Smith’s ability with the ball in his hands helps the UCLA Bruins. I see his length and passing ability especially impacting the Bruins when teams go into a zone against the Bruins. This past weekend, there were a couple of possessions where Smith flashed to the high post, received the ball, and could see over defenders to feed either open shooters behind the arc or Moses Brown for high-low action.

Thanks to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News for today’s player interviews.

Kris Wilkes

Kris Wilkes was next up. Wilkes is going into the Oregon match-up as the Bruins leading scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game. Wilkes was also asked about the Bruins’ issues valuing the basketball. Wilkes touched on the need for the Bruins to just make smarter decisions and not speed up so fast.

I think Wilkes has a point on the speed, when a team is tasked with playing up-tempo like the Bruins are expected to play, you still have to be smart with the ball and Wilkes believes that the more games the Bruins play, the less turnovers they should have. Let’s hope that Wilkes is correct with that thought.

Wilkes was asked an interesting question about Bartow possibly de-emphasizing three-point shots. And we finally got a little reaction out of Wilkes with that question, as a big smile came across his face and Wilkes emphatically said, “Bartow loves threes!”

Below is the complete Wilkes’ interview, courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News.

Prince Ali

Next up was Prince Ali. Ali was asked about the most hostile environments he’s ever played in and he ranked Matthew Knight Arena as “right up there with the best of them.” Ali anticipates a hostile and loud crowd Thursday night at Oregon.

Ali was also asked about the up-tempo style of play and how he feels that works for the team. While Ali thinks it works perfectly for the long and athletic Bruins and makes the game a lot more fun. Ali also echoed Wilkes’ belief that, although the Bruins play an up-tempo style of basketball, that as the season goes along the turnovers should decrease even with the style of play.

I remember at the start of the year, I wrote in Ali’s player preview that he was the X-factor for the Bruins since he was the only upperclassman on the squad. The numbers kinda support that. In the Bruins nine wins, Ali has averaged 11.6 points in those games. In the Bruins six losses, Ali has averaged 6 points per game.

The Bruins just look different when Ali plays well and, while I have been one of his most vocal critics, I am going to guess his conference play will continue to be a barometer for this team moving forward.

Here is Prince Ali’s interview, courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News.

Go Bruins!