Do the Bruins Look Better?

With UCLA blowing out another sub-par opponent in Chattanooga, 106-65, you can't conclude much, but it did appear that UCLA is showing improvement...

It's another blowout win, this one against Chattanooga, 106-65, and another game that makes it really difficult to conclude much about this UCLA team.

I'll probably regret this later in the season, but it did seem, however, that the Bruins were a bit improved in this one.

Let's qualify it massively first. Chattanooga was really bad. Perhaps the worst team UCLA has faced. In fact, it'd be a fun but futile debate over who's worse – Chattanooga or Oakland? Chattanooga, until they hit a flurry of three-pointers in the last couple of minutes, was easily the worst-shooting team UCLA has faced yet this season. Defensively, probably the worst. They wanted to try to run with the Bruins, so that made the game an up-and-down affair. If it's your style, we understand that you don't want to change when you come to Pauley Pavilion, but if you're this bad and think you want to run you're just going to add about 20 points to the losing deficit, so you're choice. In the halfcourt, Chattanooga just decided to play very little defense, allowing Bruin after Bruin to go right down the lane to an unprotected basket. It doesn't help when you don't have a true post player that can guard the paint either.

Given that, and before the game almost completely broke down into an AAU game late in the second half, there were a few signs of improvement from the Bruins. The most noteworthy was a bit of an improvement on defense, particularly in UCLA's zone. The last time we saw the zone extensively it was against Oakland, and it wasn't very good. This time it was particularly better. It was, well, easier, too, since UCLA packed it in even further, knowing that Chattanooga couldn't shoot. But the zone was far more active than the sleepy version we saw against Oakland. It's interesting because the last two games against Sacramento State and Morehead State the man defense has looked more engaged, but not so against Chattanooga. The man was lazier this time around, and the zone far more energetic. Steve Alford is starting to add some wrinkles, too, now trapping out of it. The traps in the halfcourt were decent, but the rotations outside of the trap weren't. In one sequence, UCLA's guard trapped a Chattanooga player when he picked up his dribble, he struggled to get the ball out of the trap, but once it was, Chattanooga passed the ball easily to a wide-open man under the basket, with Tony Parker caught in no-man's land and not recognizing the rotation.

Another new wrinkle is the pressing and trapping in the full-court and 3/4s-court. Now that UCLA has added one more body in Travis Wear, we're starting to see more of it, and we suspect we'll seen even more when Wanaah Bail makes his debut (supposedly this week). It's a good option to have and have some experience in executing; with UCLA's length it's a natural out-growth of the halfcourt zone. At this point, however, it looks tentative, with Bruin defenders not completely sure what they should be doing. While it created a couple of turnovers it also allowed a couple of easy baskets (or would-be baskets) for Chattanooga.

The game got out-of-hand to begin the second half, when UCLA went on a 21-2 run. During that run you wouldn't say, like in other games against the other cupcakes, that Chattanooga just wasn't hitting open shots. For the most part, Chattanooga didn't have almost any open looks. So, there, if you can actually take something from that and conclude UCLA's defense was better, good on you.

Offensively you could say it was UCLA's best performance because it scored so many points, and got so many of them in transition. In the halfcourt, too, it found so many open lanes for uncontested lay-ups or dunks. But since UCLA was getting so many easy chances in transition and even in the halfcourt, the Bruins didn't even have to execute much of their motion offense. The halfcourt mostly consisted of wide open lanes, wide open shots, and then offensive boards and putbacks. There were a number of nice assists, from Kyle Anderson and Bryce Alford, which made the offense prettier, but it was mostly just bigger and better players able to take other smaller and worse players one-on-one in the open court or in the halfcourt. Anderson on offense was like watching a 15-year-old take on 5-year-olds in your driveway. He finished with 17 points, 7 assists and 10 rebounds. Jordan Adams, we know, is crafty in collecting points, but against such sub-par competition he looks like Larry Bird. He had 22, on eight-of-ten shooting, most of those being lay-ups.

If you're a dunk connoisseur, then you had a good tasty meal of dunks in this one from both Norman Powell and Zach LaVine. I thought that the Pauley Pavilion crowd would start to get confused, think the game was a dunk contest and start holding up numbers. This was the best match-up that Powell could have -- some mediocre, smaller athletes trying to stay with him, not only in transition but in the halfcourt. He bullied his way to the basket a number of times, and went flying through a lane other times. LaVine also hit 2 of three three-pointers, and both he and Powell finished with 19 each. LaVine's outside shooting is key, since, when UCLA actually does play against a decent defensive team and baskets come harder in transition, outside shooting is going to be critical to UCLA's halfcourt offense. LaVine looks like he's starting to get to the comfort level in his outside shooting he had in high school, making a 23-footer early on in this one.

One of the most encouraging stats was just 11 turnovers, which is pretty impressive when, first, you committed three of them in the first couple of minutes and then, secondly, you're running up and down in transition for most of the game.

There are some takeaway concerns from Chattanooga. Tony Parker is now clearly in worry status. His stat line is misleading (8 points, 14 rebounds) because he was perhaps the only Bruin that wasn't in a groove against Chattanooga. He was consistently beat by Chattanooga's 6-6 senior center, Z. Mason. Mason, who used to be a football player, was just too thick and strong, and Parker easily conceded position and access to the basket with little resistance. Parker looked like he went into a little bit of a funk during the game, perhaps over Mason beating him consistently.

With the return of Travis Wear, you could make an argument that he and his brother David could provide more consistent production and slightly better post defense than Parker. So it will be interesting, once Travis is fully up to speed, what Alford does. Will he continue to give 28-30 minutes to Parker, or will we see the double Wears on the floor more often like we did against Chattanooga?

Bryce Alford had one of his better games, looking more comfortable; but you have to concede that just about anyone would feel more comfortable against Chattanooga. Now that he's settling down a bit, you can see that Alford's best quality is his vision to pass the ball, and when he stays within himself and recognizes his role to set up his teammates he can be an effective facillitator.

It doesn't look like the Bruins are going to get much else on their plate for Thanksgiving but cupcakes. Remember that not-good Morehead State team that UCLA beat Friday? They just beat Nevada, UCLA's opponent Thursday. Northwestern, whom UCLA plays Friday, lost to Stanford by 13 and Illinois State.

The biggest worry is that these cupcakes don't have a turkey-like Trytophan effect on the Bruins for when they face a real opponent.

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