The UCLA Bruins (12-9, 5-4 Pac-12) played a semi-satirical first half of basketball in Seattle, turning the ball over 18 times while netting a paltry 10 field goals inside a noisy Alaska Airlines Arena. The Washington Huskies (18-4, 9-0 Pac-12), for a while at least, attempted to keep pace, turning the ball over 11 times while being badgered by an aggressive Bruins’ defense out of the gate.
But the Huskies got themselves under control about midway through the first half and stopped the turnover bleeding at 11, evening out their margins with 11 made field goals. The Bruins relaxed their defensive pressure as their own turnovers continued apace and Washington led at the half, 31-23.
But, the Huskies would pull away in the second half to win by a decisive 69-55 margin.
Dave Pasch, calling the game for ESPN, summarized the first half with several minutes remaining when he bellowed into the microphone, “This is some of the ugliest offensive basketball I’ve ever seen!”
Early on, both Prince Ali and Kris Wilkes led the scoring for UCLA, banging home multiple three-pointers, throwing down multiple dunks or drives to the rim, and forcing an early Washington timeout when Ali splashed home a three from the wing and turned to bark at the Huskies’ bench. The Bruins, at that early hour, were rolling and appeared to have a chance to upset the undefeated Huskies at home.
But Wilkes, who finished with 20 points on 8 of 19 shooting, and Ali, who had 12 points on 5 of 8 field goals, faded as the game went on and Washington began taking command of the pace and scoring.
Both teams would finish 42.6% from the floor on 23 of 54 shooting, but the Huskies were able to distance themselves by hitting 11 of 24 three-pointers on multiple wide open looks created by driving the ball into UCLA’s soft zone and kicking the ball back outside to multiple sharp shooters. Four Huskies daggered threes, while guards David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle combined to drain 7 of 12, many at back-breaking moments for UCLA.
Both teams stuck with two-three zones throughout the game, with UCLA keeping its seven-foot two-inch center, Moses Brown, on the bench for a good part of the first half and portions of the second, negating a large percentage of the reach and length advantage in the interior that makes the defense effective.
Brown finished the game with thirty minutes of playing time, but, outside of an early dunk inside, he was largely ineffective and unheard from during the game. The towering center shot only two free throws, laying a tremendous brick on the first effort and knocking in the second. He finished with nine points and six rebounds.
Brown, along with most of the young players on this roster, is in need of a tremendous teaching coach to develop a game that will be effective at this level of competition. His size alone will not be enough, but, if he chooses to stick around for several seasons, training his feet and locking in several scoring options, he could develop into a major inside presence. Right now, it is largely catch as catch can for the talented freshman.
Turnovers in the second half slowed to a reasonable pace, with UCLA giving the ball up five times to Washington’s seven, but the Huskies heated up from outside, burying a barrage of three-pointers each and every time UCLA threatened to get back into the game.
The distribution arm of the Bruins’ backcourt was not able to distort the Huskies’ zone or make scoring easier for their teammates. Jaylen Hands continued to over-dribble and force poor shot after poor shot, finishing with eight points on 3 of 11 shooting. He was 0 of 5 from deep and only tallied four assists. As a point guard, his recognition of game situations and his responsibilities within them never seemed to come online.
Murray Bartow continued the admirable goal of trying to get freshman guard Jules Bernard comfortable within the framework of major college basketball, but Bernard was not able to slow the game down or get control over what he wanted to do in Seattle. After finishing one layup on a great pass from a teammate, Bernard had a wild shot swatted away, turned over the basketball, and committed a charging foul. He looked unsure both of his role and what he wanted to do with the basketball when it went to him.
Despite quality minutes since the firing of head coach Steve Alford, Bernard has not been able to find a niche in the game for his athletic frame. Bernard is another Bruin in serious need of personal development and confidence building if he is going to contribute in the Pac-12 and beyond. But, in a season like this, there are very few reasons not to keep putting him onto the floor to deal with his anxiety.
David Singleton, who should be logging more minutes as he develops into a high-scoring wing, played a precious few eleven minutes against Washington and did not score a point while grabbing two rebounds.
The Bruins’ front court stayed inconsistent as well. Forward Cody Riley is a “try hard” player at this point, who often loses focus in game situations and makes brutal mental errors. Today, after missing a wide open dunk off of a beautiful feed under the basket, he hung onto the rim and tried to re-slam the ball a second time, earning a technical foul, two shots and the basketball for Washington. He finished with two points and one rebound.
The other forward, Jalen Hill, continued to look lost within the team’s scheme. Inside the zone, he rotated late on multiple occasions, at one point taking a thunderous dunk to the face by Washington’s big Kiwi center Sam Timmins. UCLA’s entire front court are promising players physically, but, to this point, their development beyond a high school level game is minimal. They are often exploited and embarrassed inside and it is almost purely because they are not prepared to play those positions in the Pac-12.
That is far more on the inconsistent coaching than them and none of the players should be written off at this point. They are just not ready to play consistently at this level, period.
Keeping with the theme of the season, you just never know what you are going to get when UCLA takes the floor. There likely will be a few more fun nights for UCLA in this lost season, but expect plenty of down days as well. That is far less on the kids than it is everything swirling around them.