Bruins Ride Offense To Sweet 16

The Bruins didn't play their best game Sunday against Stephen F. Austin, but they played a good game and that was enough for a relatively easy victory...

In his preview of the Stephen F. Austin game, Robert Carpentier wrote that the talent gap was large enough that UCLA could conceivably win the game without an exceptional effort. Those words came true Sunday afternoon as the Bruins managed a 77-60 win even though they didn't play to the same high standard they had established in their four game winning streak. The Bruins weren't quite as sharp defensively as they had been in those games. As a result, SFA was able to hang around a bit before the Bruins put the game away. But the Bruin offense, which has become even more potent in recent weeks, was clicking on all cylinders and SFA didn't have nearly enough firepower to keep up with UCLA.

The Bruins opened the game a little bit lethargically and there was some concern that perhaps they weren't taking SFA all that seriously. The Bruins gave up three lay-ups and an open three-pointer on the first four possessions, as Jordan Adams and the Wear brothers each got victimized in the Bruin man-to-man defense. Coach Alford made the first of a few good moves in this game, though, as he quickly went to a zone defense. Typically, Alford waits until he brings in Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine before he goes to the zone. But he recognized that he needed to do something to stem the early SFA attack and the zone defense was effective in getting multiple stops. Shortly after going zone, Alford surprised SFA by going to a press after a made free throw and the Bruins forced a turnover. SFA had been in a good rhythm early and switching things up on them was a solid move by Alford.

While the Bruin defense struggled a little bit early, the offense was having no such problems. The Bruins have been good all season offensively, but they've taken it to a new level during their winning streak. It didn't help the SFA cause they had no size at all and were pretty much helpless anytime UCLA got close to the basket. Usually, the Bruins don't get much inside and they can become overly reliant on their jump-shooting. But the Bruins scored in a variety of ways in the first half of this game. Anderson got to the foul line several times, Adams knocked down a couple mid-range jumpers early and Norman Powell got a couple transition buckets.

FSA made a little mini-run in the first half when the Bruins brought in Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford. Both players struggled in this game, for different reasons. LaVine has been in a shooting slump the last few games and he went 0-3 from the field, including two wide-open corner jumpers early. Alford's struggles, meanwhile, came at the defensive end as FSA attacked him in the zone defense. After FSA hit a third three-pointer against Alford, Coach Alford called a timeout and the Bruins went back to man-to-man defense. This was another well-timed move by Coach Alford as it took FSA out of their rhythm. When Tony Parker scored on consecutive lay-ups, the Bruins regained the momentum.

UCLA led by ten at the break, but it didn't feel like the Bruins were playing all that well. It's a measure of how well they are playing now that they could have a double digit lead at the half when not playing their best basketball. Granted, FSA was a very good matchup for the Bruins, but they aren't like the cupcakes the Bruins were beating up on in December. If the Bruins played the way they were playing in December, they would have been down ten, instead of up ten, at the half.

The Bruins opened up the second half with an out of bounds play for a Norman Powell dunk and that was a fitting way to open it up as Powell was the catalyst early in the half. Powell was playing in his hometown in front of friends and family and it was great to see him playing so well. He obviously struggled during his first two years at UCLA, but his game has been steadily progressing all year and he's playing his best basketball at the right time. After his dunk to start the half, Powell had a terrific play where he grabbed the rebound, took it himself the length of the court and finished with a gorgeous behind-the-back move for a lay-up. It's a measure of how far Powell has come, and the confidence that he has now, that he didn't immediately give the ball to Anderson on the wing after the rebound. Powell has been in attack mode in transition lately, playing very similar to the way we saw him play in high school. He's a very difficult match-up in transition with his explosive athleticism and ability to change direction and extend to the rim. After the lay-up, Powell then raced back to break up a SFA play in transition. It was a terrific bit of hustle and the kind of play that were weren't seeing from the Bruins during the regular season.

The Bruins led 46-32 after Powell's play, but FSA then made a little mini run. Travis Wear was late on a closeout for a FSA three-pointer and Anderson had a bad play where he just waved at a guy in transition, which led to a lob dunk at the other end. All of a sudden, it was 46-39 and FSA had a little momentum.

However, the Bruin offense these days is much more efficient than it was previously and they kicked it into another gear at this stage of the game. David Wear knocked down an open jumper, followed by Anderson dishing to Powell and Travis Wear for consecutive dunks. Travis Wear then threw a pretty backdoor pass to Anderson for a dunk, followed by a Travis jumper from the wing and capped off by Travis feeding Jordan Adams on a post feed for an easy lay-up. Just like that, it was 58-41 and the game was pretty much over. FSA didn't have nearly enough firepower to overcome that kind of deficit against a potent Bruin attack.

This run characterized the way the Bruin offense has been clicking during their winning streak. Where before UCLA was very reliant on Anderson and Adams, the Bruins are now getting contributions from all five starters. Anderson is obviously the biggest key and he creates matchup problems that lead to opportunities for everyone else. But the Bruins have also become much more comfortable running their motion offense and figuring out how to take advantage of what the defense is giving them. An example of that has become the recent trend of posting Adams up on the low-block. Adams is a very difficult cover at this level due to his ability to shoot to the stripe, his lethal mid-range game and also his ability to play in the post. He's very crafty when he gets the ball down low and he's very good at drawing fouls. FSA tried to cover him with a midget in this game and the Bruins smartly attacked that match-up a few times.

FSA came into this game 8th in the country at creating turnovers, but the Bruins did an outstanding job of taking care of the ball. UCLA had 22 assists and only three turnovers for the game. That's a ridiculous ratio, especially playing in an NCAA tournament game. The Bruins were led by their big three, as Adams had 19 points, Powell with 16 and Anderson with 15. But it truly was a team effort in this game. Other than a few defensive lapses, and a couple times where FSA did some damage on the offensive glass, the Bruins were very solid. Earlier in the season we were seeing the Bruins win against an out-manned opponent by playing maybe 5-10 minutes of sustained good basketball. In this game, there were maybe 5-10 minutes where the Bruins weren't playing with really good focus and effort.

UCLA now draws Florida in a huge Sweet 16 game and the Bruins will obviously need forty minutes of great effort and focus to knock off the Gators. Florida is a tough match-up for the Bruins, as the Gators have size and perimeter play, with both good defense and good offense. But as we saw in the Arizona game, the Bruins are now capable of playing with anyone in the country when they're locked in and focused. Florida is a better team than Arizona, but they're not a great team. There are no great teams in college basketball this year, including this UCLA team. But the Bruins are a hot team and sometimes that can take you a long way in the NCAA tournament.

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