The real story now is next year for UCLA Bruins basketball. But this is the end of not just a season but an error, er...era, as Alford is gone. So, here is the wrap-up roundtable by three of Bruins Nation’s basketball writers on last season as we turn the page to thoughts of the next coach.
DCBruins: Jaylen Hands. Hands was not consistent, but did consistently get better. For example, his shooting percentages of 41% overall and 37% from three are meh for the season. But really he had a poor start. He upped those in Pac-12 play to 44% and 39% from three. He was also UCLA’s best free throw shooter with more than 10 attempts and led the Pac-12 in assists. Moreover, his shot selection improved, and he was UCLA’s number one option by the end of the year. Yes, his defensive effort was questionable at times, but he became a good point guard at the end of the year while remaining an elite offense threat. His 27-point second half against defense first and Pac-12 Tournament Champion Oregon keyed a comeback win and was a truly dominating performance. If Hands improves his defense, he will be a threat for Pac-12 MVP and be playing for pay in the NBA.
Markybcool: I guess it’s the curse of going second. There might be some repeats with DC. Although, should I possibly say David Singleton? The Bruins did go 4-1 in games that he started and he just seemed to be one of the more valuable Bruins when he was on the court. With that being said, I agree that Hands was the MVP of the Bruins. We all wondered what he would look like as UCLA’s point guard and he has a lot of room to improve, but, on a team that did not have a lot of bright spots, his improved play at the point guard position was as bright as there was on this team.
Dimitri Dorlis: I’m going to do my best to give some different answers from you two, so even though the answer is clearly Jaylen Hands, I’ll try to make a case for David Singleton. Singleton’s insertion into the starting lineup following the injury to Prince Ali managed to kick-start the best run of play for the Bruins all season with the offense managing to flow with some level of consistency, while unlocking Hands as an offensive tour de force who didn’t have to completely carry the load at point guard. It leads to the questions of what UCLA’s season would have looked like had Singleton been starting earlier and what may have happened had he not fractured his foot in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Most Improved Player
DCBruins: This team was about the “Jalens.” The other Jalen, Jalen Hill, at the beginning of the year was so bad on offense in an early game the opponent literally left him wide open. Yet, by the end of the season, he had passed more highly touted Moses Brown and Cody Riley and more experienced Chris Smith. He showed a good feel on offense on when to shoot and when to pass. Earlier in the year, he looked lost and was a liability on defense, especially in a zone. At the end of the year, his presence let the Bruins play a 3-2 zone and made the man defense a success. Along with David Singleton, he was the best “team” player that made everything better when he was on the court.
Markybcool: For me, Jaylen Hands wins two awards. When I think about this award, I look at it in terms of from one year to the next. No player on this team improved more from last year to this year than Jaylen Hands.
Dimitri Dorlis: Jalen Hill going from “basically unplayable” to “defensive lynchpin” over the course of the season is certainly something to be acknowledged. You can also give a shout-out to Jaylen Hands for learning to pass the ball and leading the conference in assists in the process. The combination of David Singleton and Jules Bernard also should be mentioned here for growing from small roles to starter and 6th man by the end of the season.
DCBruins: Jalen Hill. Hill rebounded, played man-to-man switching defense well. He always gave us his all and he made the team better. His rebounding was second best on team and his versatility enabled him to play fours or fives, zone or man. This was not a good defensive team, but Hill was a bright spot.
Markybcool: Jalen Hill. His block against Notre Dame and the sequence that ensued was maybe the play and sequence of the year for the Bruins.
Dimitri Dorlis: Jalen Hill was clearly operating on a different level than the rest of the team, but let’s give a shout out to Prince Ali, who actually gave consistent effort on the defensive end while he was healthy and was, in many respects, our best perimeter defender.
DCBruins: The Liberty loss. It was not just a loss. It was a blowout loss at home to a team that does not have one player at UCLA’s level.
Markybcool: The loss to Liberty was a loss to a good basketball team that is dancing in March. The blowout loss to Stanford on February 16th was not a loss to a good team, as a matter of fact. It was a blowout loss to a horrible team and I don’t care if it was on the road. It added to the embarrassment. Stanford was the only team to break the century mark against UCLA this year.
Dimitri Dorlis: Bill Walton said it best when he said that losing to Liberty was a stain on the entire university. It wasn’t just because UCLA should never lose to Liberty at home, but UCLA should never be scheduling a school like Liberty in the first place.
Biggest Disappointment on the Season besides the Record
DCBruins: While Jaylen Hands developed as a player or a point guard during the season, Kris Wilkes did not. He was, at times, terrible from three and disinterested in defense. He did not seem to get better. I don’t think he is a bad kid. He never pouted when he was benched but he did not seem to improve at all as a player. This from the guy who before the year started had a chance to be Pac-12 MVP.
Markybcool: Can I have three? Again, I agree with DC. WIlkes cost himself some money with the way he played this year. However, another player who disappointed me was Moses Brown. Not that I was expecting a whole lot from him this year, but I was not expecting any player on UCLA to be benched multiple times, letting down his team in the process. Chris Smith was the most disappointing player that the Bruins had. Much was expected and little was returned on his end. Smith barely shot 40% from the field and 28% from behind the arc.
Dimitri Dorlis: Is it bad to say that there really wasn’t anything that truly disappointed me this season? Part of that is having zero expectations. This was a Steve Alford-coached team. So, I wasn’t expecting anything in the way of development or consistent play or solid understanding of basketball concepts. When a team runs a zone defense that seems designed to give up corner threes, there really is nothing that can disappoint you. I got a few fun wins out of the season and Hands tried to carry the team for a bit which was fun to watch. Ultimately, I no longer have to watch Steve Alford on the sidelines\. So, I’m good.
Highlight of the Season
DCBruins: It was not good basketball, but the comeback win against Oregon was very impressive. The team was down by eight points with 45 seconds left and the comeback was capped off with an intentional free throw miss and Chris Smith’s put-back, the win was the highlight of the season.
Markybcool: For pure entertainment value, without a doubt, the Oregon win will go down as one of the craziest wins in the history of the program.
Dimitri Dorlis: Literally anything to do with Bill Walton this season. Big Red made watching any UCLA game he was commenting on feel less like a chore and way more enjoyable.
Personal “Favorite Player”
DCBruins: Poise, intelligence, effort, and team play. David Singleton was the personification of all of it. The stats tell part of the story. He was the starting two guard and backup point with only 12 turnovers for the season. He hit 47% from three! Best defensive guard. Singleton’s only problem was the coaches would not give him more minutes.
Markybcool: Since DC picked Singleton, I am going to make everybody laugh and pick Jules Bernard. Now, I didn’t pick him to make people laugh. I picked him because he really is one of my favorite players. It was easy for some in the comments sections of articles to bash Bernard for some of his haphazard play, but I, for one, appreciate his effort and grit in every game that he played in. He shot close to 47% from the field, 37% from three, and about 74% at the line. He will hopefully improve his decision making next year and become a big contributor next year.
Dimitri Dorlis: Chris Smith is unrealized potential personified. He has moments where it looks like everything has clicked and become easy and, then, he has other moments where he makes basketball look like the toughest thing to do in the world. But I’m drawn to players like him who are working on improving and who show flashes of brilliance. More than most guys on the team, Smith is going to benefit from bringing in a new coach who actually understands how to help players grow and I can’t wait to see what he does.
Reason Why You are Happiest the Alford Error/Era is over
DCBruins: Defense. Alford’s team don’t play defense. Alford’s defense was basically hope the other team misses a three-pointer. I would love to see a real pressing defense which this deep team could have played. Even Alford’s best team, the 2016-17 team with Lonzo Ball, was beautiful on offense and the defense was “We are going to outscore you.” A second reason is the ugly losses, whether it was the Kentucky “shutout game” or the Liberty debacle. Year in and year out, Alford’s team were at some point going to lose ugly.
Markybcool: I’m happiest for the Alford cloud that has hung over UCLA basketball to finally be lifted. Alford was such a polarizing and unpopular hire from the jump that I was just tired of the coach continuously being more of a story than the players themselves.
Dimitri Dorlis: Can I actually give a reason why I’m not happy this is finally over? You see that picture I put below this section? Where Alford has his hands by his face in a look of pure anguish? We have been affectionately referring to that as “The Picture” for over a year now and it makes me so sad that I won’t be able to just put this as the image for articles anymore. Happy trails, partner.