On the surface, Thursday night's win over Colorado was arguably UCLA's best win of the season, with the No. 25 Bruins knocking off the No. 21 Buffaloes on the road, in what is probably one of the tougher environments UCLA has played in this year.
Of course, taking a deeper look, Colorado was missing its best, most valuable player in Spencer Dinwiddie, who is now going to sit out the year after suffering an ACL tear in his last game. Additionally, the Buffaloes were without key freshman Tre'Shaun Fletcher, who also suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for a considerable amount of time. There's an argument that Dinwiddie is just as valuable to Colorado as Kyle Anderson is to UCLA, and in limited time this season, you've seen how UCLA has looked with Anderson out of the game.
Without Dinwiddie in particular on Thursday, the Buffalo offense was generally out of sync. It's actually difficult to say how effective UCLA's defense was, considering how inept Colorado looked offensively for most of the game. The Buffaloes had quite a few possessions where they had good ball movement, rotating it well around the perimeter, but had no one to cut toward the basket or take a dribble to get themselves open. They also had probably half a dozen missed shots right at the rim.
UCLA, on the other side, kept it close by having a fairly poor offensive game, particularly in the second half. Some of that was Colorado's defense, but more of it was just ineffective offensive play from UCLA. Jordan Adams really struggled to get open most of the game, and even when he opted to attack the glass, knowing that his shot wasn't falling, he wasn't able to finish effectively around the rim. Bryce Alford, obviously, went 0-7 and looked like he was out of sorts. Also, on the scheme-side of things, it was interesting that UCLA opened the game with Norman Powell posting up Askia Booker effectively, used a similar play once again about halfway through the first half, and then didn't post up Booker again. It was interesting, given the strength and size advantage that UCLA has at the guard spots, that they didn't go to that more often.
Bryce Alford, who has played well offensively at times this year, really struggled on Thursday. There were a few times where he took bad shots, mostly because he was rushed by closing defensive pressure. He also seemed to be pressing on the simple plays, attempting an entry pass at one point from about 35 feet away that was, naturally, tipped immediately away and almost stolen. He does some obvious stuff offensively that may work against lower level talent—like jumping to pass—that probably won't work against teams as solidly coached as Colorado. It's a credit to Coach Alford that, noticing that his son was struggling in the first half, he limited his minutes in the second half and went more to LaVine. With teams moving to key on Bryce's shooting ability a little bit more, there could be some growing pains.
To UCLA's credit, though, the Bruins did seem to be continuing the trend of playing with more energy and effort on the defensive end. Zach LaVine, who didn't really know what to do defensively through the early stages of the season, seems to be putting it together a bit lately. Norman Powell, who has been the best defender on the team through the first half of the season, not only played solid defense, but let it fuel his offense. That may have been Powell's best offensive game at UCLA, as he played under control most of the game and shot it well out to three.
What's probably most encouraging for UCLA is the continued emergence of Tony Parker. Parker, to a large extent, finally looks like he's on the development arc you expect from a talented big—making the occasional good defensive play, playing with good energy on the offensive glass, and finishing, generally, pretty well at the rim. He's probably picking up fouls at too high of a rate still, but that's something you can work on. If he can continue to play with confidence, it could allow Alford to limit his use of the Wears at the same time, which would probably continue to help the defense.
Coupled with that, it was also very encouraging that, against a decent front line, the Bruins were once again able to rebound very effectively. You have to credit Adams, whose shot wasn't falling, for making the decision to crash the glass. UCLA got much more rebounding from he and the Wear brothers than it usually does. We've said for a long time that when UCLA doesn't shoot well, it will struggle, but if the Bruins can rebound that effectively with some consistency, it could go a long way toward mitigating the effects of a cold shooting night. There's little doubt that UCLA would not have won this game, even without Dinwiddie, shooting 39% a month ago.
Kyle Anderson was once again the engine driving the offense, even if his numbers weren't up to their usual standard. When he went out of the game with two fouls in the first half, Colorado immediately went on a run, cutting the lead to two. Coach Alford then pulled Bryce out of the game, put Anderson back in, and UCLA immediately went on a 5-0 run. If we had to guess, as the season goes along, teams are going to attack Anderson more and more on the defensive end to force him into foul trouble.
It's going to be interesting to see how good Tad Boyle can make Colorado this year without Dinwiddie, because that'll determine whether this ends up being thought of as a quality win in the eyes of the RPI and selection committee. In our opinion, Boyle is one of the best coaches in the Pac-12, but the Buffaloes looked mediocre—at best—without Dinwiddie on Thursday.
The Bruins did what they needed to do in beating Colorado, a depleted team on the road. The Bruins need to complete the sweep, though, to truly take a considerable amount of momentum from the weekend. Utah did a nice job of dismantling USC last night, beating the Trojans 84-66, not that it takes all that much to beat USC by a lot these days. The Utes are a different team at home, with their two conference wins coming at home, in addition to a close, overtime loss to Oregon. If UCLA can pull off another win, the Bruins will head home with some solid momentum heading into the weekend against the Bay Area schools at Pauley Pavilion.
Bruins Beat Battered Buffaloes
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