UCLA Turns in Stinker to End Season

The Bruins play like they don't care and lose to the worst team in the conference, 73-55, in what is UCLA's worst loss of the season...

UCLA suffered its worst loss of the season Saturday night in Pullman, in its last regular-season game, getting badly out-played, out-coached and out-hustled in the process, 73-55.

It was a miserable showing and it was pretty much a team-wide effort. The loss continued the pattern of losing the second game on road trips, but this loss was far worse than the previous losses at Utah, Oregon State and Stanford. While it's true that none of those teams is what you would call "good," they are all somewhat mediocre and they've shown some ability to win at home. Washington State, however, is a horrible team and the Cougars were coming off an eleven-point home loss to USC. Losing to the Cougars by 18 points is flat-out embarrassing.

Early on, it appeared that the Bruins had learned from their previous Pac-12 road trips. They came out with good energy, they were active on defense and they jumped out quickly to a 15-5 lead. They had a couple deflections with active hands, which led to a few easy transition baskets. The ball movement on offense was fairly crisp, the Bruins were moving well in their man-to-man defense and it looked like the second road game woes were going to be put to rest.

However, with just under 13 minutes to go in the half, Kyle Anderson picked up his second foul and went to the bench. Sometimes it's difficult to define a single turning point or crucial moment in a game. You might be able to point to multiple parts of a game as a possible turning point or crucial moment. That wasn't the case Saturday; Anderson leaving the game with two fouls was clearly the turning point in the game. He was out for about five and a half minutes, during which time UCLA scored only four points. When he came back in the Bruins led 19-15, but Washington State had gathered a lot of momentum. With the Bruins playing a very passive zone defense, the Cougars were getting a lot of wide-open three-pointers, as well as numerous offensive rebounds. Initially, they weren't converting on all those attempts. But you could see their confidence build when they finally started hitting some of those three-pointers and their energy level picked up dramatically.

The Cougars picked on Bryce Alford in the first half, attacking his side of the zone repeatedly. When the Bruins switched to a man-to-man, Alford made an ill-advised attempt for a steal that led to a Washington State dunk. With Zach LaVine struggling to make a shot (he went 0-8 for the game), and Alford struggling to defend anyone, it was surprising that Coach Alford never went back to his starting lineup in the latter part of the half, especially given that the starters had jumped out to an early lead and had been playing with good energy. The Cougar bench out-scored the Bruin bench 40-16 for the game. Granted, Anderson had foul trouble and it made sense to have him sit some minutes in the first half. But once he came back in the game, it was surprising that he was never playing with the other starters for the rest of the first half. He then picked up his third foul late in the first half and the Cougars went to the break with a 34-26 lead.

But given that Washington State is terrible, and the Bruins have made a habit of second-half comebacks lately, it seemed likely that UCLA would regain control of the game in the second half. The Cougars, though, played like a team that is sick of losing. They completely out-hustled UCLA to start the second half and managed to get out in transition a couple times for lay-ups or free throw attempts. UCLA, meanwhile, was settling for a lot of jump shots. There was no rhythm to the Bruin offense and many of the shots came off of one-on-one moves or early in the shot clock.

With 15:39 to go in the game, and the Bruins trailing 42-29, I wrote in my notes: "How will they respond?" Um, not well. The Bruins' body language was terrible, Washington State continued to play with far superior energy and the Bruins played with little poise or purpose at either end of the court. The Bruins had virtually no shots in the paint for a long stretch, as they missed jump shots and had very few offensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Cougars were beating the Bruins to offensive rebounds off missed free throws. Washington State's confidence continued to grow and it's not surprising that the Cougars made 10 three-pointers in the game. Anyone that's ever played the game can tell you that the rim gets a lot bigger when you're playing with confidence. And the Bruins did nothing to disrupt that confidence, as they put no defensive pressure on the Cougars. Particularly galling for UCLA was the fact that DaVonte Lacy, by far the Cougars leading scorer at 19 points a game, only made 1-10 shots and finished with nine points. The Bruins were torched by Cougar bench players Ike Iroegbu, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Que Johnson. Those three players went a combined 8-14 from three-point range. I don't need to look up the stats to tell you that they haven't combined for those types of numbers all year. But, again, that's what happens when you let a bad team get some confidence and momentum.

As I said, this was a team-wide effort, with questionable coaching moves, a lack of energy and focus from the players, and a real lack of mental toughness and grit. While it's true that Washington State played hard, and they threw in some shots they might not normally make, the Bruins never even made it a game in the second half. It's one thing to get down on the road, then recover and maybe lose a tight game at the end. It's quite another thing to basically just fold early in the second half and lose by 18 to a team that went 3-15 in conference. That's a big concern to take away from this game.

Kyle Anderson was really the only Bruin that did anything of note, finishing with 19 points and a team-high 11 rebounds (the entire team only had 37 rebounds). Jordan Adams had a few nice plays defensively early, but could never get going on offense and finished with seven points on 2-8 shooting. The Wear brothers finished their regular season careers at UCLA with a combined six points and five rebounds in 44 minutes. Norman Powell had a quiet seven points and got into foul trouble early in the second half with a quick three fouls. Bryce Alford made 2-8 shots in 28 minutes, which was second only to Anderson's 30 minutes. Tony Parker also did very little, finishing with two points and two rebounds in 18 minutes.

This Bruin team is obviously pretty gifted offensively and they've managed to beat a number of teams even when only playing hard for 10-15 minutes a game. But the season-long pattern of playing in spurts, and seemingly only playing just hard enough to get the win, is disturbing. There was no great "culture change" during the regular season. The offense definitely flowed better, and for some people that made it more enjoyable to watch, but it's pretty clear this team has yet to buy into playing with consistent energy, focus and purpose. That probably isn't going to change in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, but stranger things have happened. The Bruins will get the winner of the Oregon-Oregon State game Thursday night in Las Vegas at the Pac-12 Tournament. Hopefully, the sting of this debacle will lead to a renewed commitment and focus.


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