UCLA Hurts Itself to End Season

Florida is a good but not a great team, while UCLA turned in a poorly-played and poorly-coached performance in the Sweet 16 to end the season, 79-68...

UCLA losing to Florida in the Sweet 16, 79-68, was a tough way to end the season.

You can tell by the BRO Premium Hoops Message Board – there were quite a few factors in that game that showcased some long-running issues fans had with this team this season.

After a nice run of five post-season, well-played and well-coached games, UCLA regretfully ended the season with a poorly-played and poorly-coached game.

The shame of it, too, was that, even though UCLA wasn't at its best, the game was completely winnable. Florida is good, not great, and this UCLA team was very capable of beating the Gators.

I guess you should give Florida, and its defense primarily, credit for making UCLA not perform very well. It definitely did contribute to Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams having off games.

It was still, though, a case that UCLA definitely also hurt itself. Certainly Anderson was limited by Florida's athleticism and its ability to keep him under wraps, and its press probably wore him down some. But Anderson also just plainly made some bad decisions.

Adams went 1 for 5 from three and was throwing up some considerable bricks.

It's tough when your two best players do that.

We noted during the Pac-12 Tournament how this UCLA team had found its identity – and that was offensive execution. With Anderson running the show, Adams playing under control, the experience and maturity of Travis Wear and David Wear, and the developing composure of Norman Powell, this team had found a way to win by executing its offense so precisely. It had 17 assists and just three turnovers against Stephen F. Austin.

In the first half of the Florida game, UCLA had 2 assists and 7 turnovers.

UCLA wasn't a great defensive team, really, at any time this season. Nor was it a good rebounding team. It wasn't going to magically turn into one over night against the #1-ranked team in the country either. UCLA simply wasn't going to win this game with defense and rebounding, but rather by executing its offense so well it would overcome Florida's stout defense. That was the chance it had.

But so many things failed in that game plan against Florida. The offense broke down often and resulted in too many one-on-one situations. UCLA wasn't patient enough to keep running its offense and try to find a good look through it. And there were too long of stretches when there was just plainly the wrong personnel in the game to achieve the offensive execution necessary to win.

Steve Alford had done a very good job of coaching this team in the last two weeks and really had it coalescing nicely. But there are two primary aspects of game coaching: one is tactical preparation, and Alford has pretty much proven this year that he's good at it; and there is in-game coaching, and the jury was a bit out on Alford in these terms, and the jury is further out as a result of this game.

There were a few curves thrown at UCLA in this game, and the in-game coaching decisions didn't adapt well to them. Alford was pretty set in his substitution pattern this season, and this game, because of the adversity, called for a departure from it, but Alford stuck with generally the same pattern. When Anderson picked up his second foul in the first half (on a foolish reach), UCLA was up 11-8. Five minutes later, with Anderson out, UCLA found itself down 16-24 after Florida had gone on a 16-5 run. UCLA's offense completely stagnated without Anderson. Now, there are endless discussions about whether it's an antiquated idea to take out a player with two fouls, but even beyond that discussion, there is the coaching move of putting in both Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine at the same time without Anderson in the game. This is what happened as a result: Steve Alford opted for playing zone mostly with those two in the game, as he always does, but Florida got hot from three. Alford had to come out of the zone and go to man, and that left both LaVine and Bryce Alford, who have played very little man all season, having to match up with an experienced Florida backcourt. There were a couple of possessions in which both freshmen didn't know whether to switch off a screen and Gators were freed up in the paint for easy baskets.

So UCLA's defense was a mess – at the same time its offense couldn't execute without Anderson. Not a great combination. UCLA lost its control of the game during that sequence and then was trying the rest of the night to get it back. Very simply, if Alford had, say, substituted just one of Alford or LaVine, and kept in Powell, UCLA's man defense might have been far better, since Powell is UCLA's best defender and it would have eliminated one of the poor-defending freshmen.

To end the half, it's a bit head-scratching why the very-little-used Noah Allen was used. Tony Parker had two fouls and was sitting on the bench – because the coaching guide book says to bench a player in the first half if he has two fouls. But Parker plays about 23 minutes per game and it was a remote chance that he'd foul out. Plus, it's not logical to make such a move that will clearly put you at a deficit in a very critical time of the game based on the chance of something happening later in the game (Parker fouling out). Allen, to no fault of his own since he's played so little, was key in a couple of plays down the stretch of the first half – not blocking out on a free throw that led to a three-point play and then missing the front end of one-and-one. UCLA had scratched its way back to gaining some momentum, but Allen in the game during the last few minutes of the first half definitely contributed to snuffing out that momentum.

Parker, by the way, finished the game with three fouls.

Then there's the much-discussed decision to sit Anderson and Adams for too long in the second half. UCLA had climbed back in again, coming within 1 at 56-55 at 10 minutes. But Alford sat both Anderson and Adams at the same time for about 4 minutes. Coming out of the TV timeout at the 8-minute mark would have possibly been a good time to at least get Anderson back in, with the score at 58-55. But they continued to, while Bryce Alford and LaVine were struggling, and Florida made a run. Anderson and Adams were at the scorer's table for a couple of possessions waiting to enter the game, even, and by the time Alford called a timeout with 6:11 remaining the score was 63-55, with Florida having gone on a decisive 7-0 run. Anderson and Adams were probably gassed and needed the rest, but you'd still rather have a gassed Anderson in the game running the offense than Bryce Alford, who was clearly in over his head at this level.

Like I said, though, even despite the poor play and the poor coaching decisions, UCLA still had a chance to win the game. Even during that critical sequence, there was a missed layup by LaVine, a missed putback by Parker and a bad shot selection in which Bryce Alford had his three-point attempt blocked. UCLA truly did more to lose the game than Florida did to win it.

We'll have some post-season post-mortems providing an abundance of over-analysis of the season, the team, the coaching, and the state of the program coming soon.

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