When you face a team that is so severely lacking in athleticism and talent, you truly have to just about completely throw out any conclusions you could take from it.
We could say that UCLA's defense looked better against Sac State, but you have to compensate with the fact that the Hornets were so severely unathletic it really means nothing.
The Bruins ran more man defense in this one, compared to predominantly zone against Oakland. Just being in man, UCLA looked far more active and engaged defensively. You'd want to say the defense was improved over Oakland, but Sac State is considerably worse than Oakland, so you really can't make that assertion. There were still some worrisome breakdowns, too, and they're worrisome because it was against Sac State. It's probably not too much to expect that UCLA would completely overwhelm a Sac State team of this caliber defensively, and not allow even one open look or any penetration into the paint, but that wasn't the case. As in the other games so far this season, you'd have to say there were too many open looks for the opponent. Sac State, like Oakland and Drexel, just couldn't shoot.
Probably the one offensive possession for the Hornets that typified the game was in the second half at about the 9-minute mark when UCLA was in a pretty lax zone. The Hornets guard penetrated with one dribble to the top of the key since he was given so much space by Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford, and he threw an easy bounce pass to the Sac State post who was uncontested on the block, but the post player couldn't get enough lift trying to dunk it and the rim swatted it away.
Transition defense, too, is still a concern. Sac State, for them, had too many easy looks in transition, with the Bruins still not committed to getting back on defense.
The new defensive wrinkle was a few full-court and three-quarters court press/trap possessions. It was good to see, that coach Steve Alford would have this in the defensive repertoire. It succeeded in wearing down an already worn-down Sac State team. In a real game, against a real opponent, you'd question the wisdom of pressing when you only have seven players, but this wasn't a real game. It was clear it was something Alford wants to have at his disposal and get the team comfortable in it.
Offensively, UCLA got some easy baskets in transition, which made running up the score to a 30+ deficit effortless. With Kyle Anderson and Bryce Alford making some nice assists, it became a bit of a dunk fest for a stretch about halfway through the second half. In the halfcourt, Anderson looks like he's starting to get the intricacies of the offense and knowing where his assist opportunities are going to come from. But again, when you completely out-match the defense because you are literally bigger and more athletic man-for-man, it's difficult to take anything away from the open looks you're getting in your halfcourt offense.
Perhaps the best takeaway of the season so far is that Jordan Adams doesn't looked slowed at all after returning from his injury. He led all scorers in this one with 21 points, and his quick hands and cleverness created 8 steals on the defensive end. It was encouraging to see Adams get in an outside shooting groove, going 4 for 5 from three.
We expected Tony Parker to have a career game, since the Sac State posts might be the worst UCLA will face this season. He wasn't in foul trouble, but still had a modest game, with 10 points and 4 rebounds. With it being Sac State and with UCLA having so few players that would have to play big minutes, we thought this game would be a prime candidate for Anderson to get a triple-double, but he finished with 8 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds.
David Wear, against this kind of competition, got 12 points and 10 rebounds. Norman Powell didn't have to take too many outside shots to get to 14 points. He also is the primary defender who is actually expending some energy on the defensive side of the floor. Alford, against this type of competition, had a good offensive game, with 5 assists, and hitting a three-pointer. LaVine also hit a three, and benefitted offensively from transition. He's looking to pass the ball in the halfcourt, which is encouraging, too.
Again, you have to take the competition into consideration, but one of the most encouraging things about this UCLA team is their ability to take care of the ball. They've committed just 33 turnovers so far in three games. Having Anderson on the ball so much is definitely contributing to it.
One of the least encouraging things is that, playing against bad competition, UCLA isn't shooting the ball well as a team from three. Take Adams out of the equation (he's 9 for 17 for 53%), the rest of the team is 7 for 30, which is 23%. Again, this has come with mostly wide open looks from three.
Probably the biggest worry in playing against so many cupcakes is that the Bruins could get lulled into a tempo and level of play that is going to send them into shock when they play against a real team. Right now the team generally looks disinterested. By the second half, there was very little defense being played and UCLA was allowing Sac State wide open looks. And that lulling is going to continue for the foreseeable future, with Morehead State, Chattanooga and Nevada coming up before getting to a seemingly D-1 team in Northwestern at the end of the month.
The schedule, too, seems to be lulling UCLA basketball fans into sleep at Pauley Pavilion – those that are showing up (the reported attendance was 5,489, but we're skeptical). It's too bad the schedule fell this way, because a good win over a legitimate opponent would probably jumpstart some excitement about the team. Contrarily, UCLA needs to desperately avoid an upset loss against an underdog, because that could tailspin the non-conference season and attendance even worse. If the Bruins can remain undefeated heading into the Missouri game, and then beat the Tigers in Columbia, and play Duke at least respectfully in New York, then perhaps Pauley will get some excitement and energy – in the stands and on the court.