Bruins Handle Another Cupcake

The Bruins put together one good stretch of basketball in the first half Friday night and it was enough to win against another low-major opponent. But questions about the defense and rebounding remain...

UCLA defeated Morehead St. 81-70 Friday night, as the Bruins managed to stay interested just long enough to win relatively comfortably. The Bruins had one very solid stretch of basketball in the first half, as they opened up a 37-20 lead. But from that point forward, UCLA did a poor job of defending and rebounding, as the Eagles out-scored the Bruins by six the rest of the way.

After watching the two exhibition games, and four games against talent-deficient low- to mid-major squads, it's very apparent that the Bruins need to play some real competition. They're getting away with winning games despite playing mediocre to poor defense with inconsistent rebounding. Playing mostly zone defense Friday night, the Bruins gave up way too many quality looks both inside and on the perimeter. The Eagles only made 10-28 shots from three-point range, but most of those shots were good looks. It wasn't like the Bruin defense was forcing them into contested three-pointers. A lot of those shots were good looks after the Eagles penetrated the Bruin zone and then kicked it out to open shooters.

Meanwhile, the Eagles center Chad Posthumus went off for 21 points and 18 rebounds (he came into the game averaging 10 and 11 against mostly low-major competition). Tony Parker struggled badly trying to defend the Eagle center, as Posthumus was getting low-post position way too easily. But it wasn't only Parker that struggled, as he only played 16 minutes due to foul trouble. The entire frontline for UCLA had difficulty defending and rebounding.

After the game, Coach Alford talked about the Bruins' habit of playing in spurts. He said they play that way in practice as well and said part of it may be due to having a short roster with Travis Wear and Wanaah Bail having been out with injuries. That's certainly understandable when you're talking about maybe 7-8 scholarship players playing in practice, since everyone has to play all the time. But once you get to the games, you'd like to see those 7-8 guys playing with great energy and intensity a little more consistently. Right now, it seems like the Bruins run hard to one end of the court and not so hard to the other. It appears that the defensive side of the court is just somewhere they have to be until they can get the ball back and look to score again. The Eagles penetrated the Bruin zone way too easily at times as the Bruins didn't play with any energy at that end of the court for most of the night. Their rotations were slow and the Eagles got good looks pretty much any time they forced the Bruins to defend for more than 15-20 seconds.

Since the Bruins have played mostly cupcakes in their six games so far, it's difficult to know if the defense and rebounding will improve when the competition gets better. On the one hand, you look at the quality looks they're giving up against low-major competition and wonder what happens when they start playing good teams. But you also have to keep in mind that the Bruins have been able to score pretty much at will against all of their opponents so far. They haven't had any problems putting up points quickly and easily. When the points come that freely, it's not always easy to have a sense of urgency on defense. The players can see that they have a huge talent, and size, advantage in these games and it's been obvious early in each game. So it's not exactly surprising that they wouldn't be able to maintain their focus and energy level consistently. The worry is that these games are going to give the Bruins a false sense of where they are as a team. They may not realize that their effort level on defense, and with their defensive rebounding, is nowhere near what it needs to be when they start playing quality competition.

Fortunately for the Bruins they had the two best players in this game in Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. Anderson had a triple double with 13 points, 12 boards and 11 assists, while Adams was on fire most of the night with an easy-looking 30 points. Anderson pretty much had his way with the smaller Eagle guards, as he finished with only one turnover and the Bruins generally got quality looks whenever the ball was in his hands. Adams scored in a variety of ways, as he got free for several open jumpers, scored in transition and got to the line for eight free throws. Adams just has a knack for scoring and his ability to do it in different ways makes him a tough cover for the opposition.

After Adams and Anderson, though, it was a mixed bag for the Bruins. Travis Wear came off the bench in his first game back from appendicitis and he did some good things in 22 minutes of action with 11 points, three steals and two blocks. Zach LaVine had a good first half, draining several jumpers and throwing down a nice dunk off a lob from Bryce Alford. But LaVine's production was pretty much limited to the first half and he was one of many Bruins giving a lax effort on defense. Alford also had a solid stretch in the first half when the Bruins opened up the 37-20 lead, finding LaVine for several assists and knocking down a three himself. But the second half was a different story, as he had a few turnovers and some questionable shot selection. Alford has struggled so far against low-major competition, looking over-matched defensively and trying to do too much at the offensive end. He needs to realize that the Bruins don't need him to make plays – they just need him to be solid, take care of the ball and make good decisions. Jumping in the air behind the backboard to pass does not qualify as a good decision.

Norman Powell settled for a few too many jumpers and couldn't seem to get on track the whole night. He's generally been very good this season, doing a better job of attacking the basket and showing much better decision-making. But once he missed a few open jump shots he appeared to start pressing and never really got into the flow of the game. Tony Parker had another poor game and his play is becoming a big concern. He gives up position way too easily in the post and he's getting scored upon with alarming frequency. At the offensive end, he's an inconsistent scorer. He will occasionally show you a decent post move, but he's still far from comfortable with his footwork and low-post moves. With Travis Wear now healthy, and Wanaah Bail getting close to playing, it will be interesting to see how Coach Alford manages the minutes for the Bruin big men. David Wear had another forgettable game and he pretty much looks like the same player we saw last year.

After the game I commented to a friend that this team is starting to remind me of some of the teams coached by Jim Harrick. No, not the team that cut down the nets in Seattle. But some of the earlier teams with Don MacLean, Tracy Murray, Trevor Wilson, etc. Those teams usually scored a bunch of points, but had little to no interest in defending. They won a fair number of games due to that offensive firepower, but you always wondered if they were going to be able to get the stops needed to win big games against quality competition. It's still early in the season but, as of now, it's fair to have the same concerns about this squad. They've got two all-conference level players in Anderson and Adams, and then several guys that can get you 8-12 points on any given night. But they don't yet have a team-wide commitment to defending and rebounding. Whether that will change when the schedule gets tougher remains to be seen, but you can bet that the ultimate success or failure of this season will depend upon it.


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