UCLA defeated Azusa Pacific 80-53 Friday in an exhibition game and that’s pretty much what it felt like – an exhibition.
The Cougars were badly out-matched in terms of talent and size, while the Bruins played with inconsistent effort and focus (particularly at the defensive end). The encouraging signs for the Bruins were a big night from Norman Powell, some nice moments from Tony Parker, the obvious upside of Kevon Looney and the advanced fundamentals and feel shown by Thomas Welsh. Some negative takeaways would be the inability of the Bruin defenders to stay with their men consistently (particularly Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton), the obvious lack of a true point guard on the roster and a glaring drop-off in talent from the top six to the bottom three on the roster (Wannah Bail, Noah Allen and Gyorgy Golomon).
Overall, the first impression of this team isn't great, but it’s not that they are completely lacking in talent or devoid of any chance to get better. Kevon Looney is a long athlete with good body control, nice ball skills for his size and the ability to do some damage around the basket. However, he probably needs to get much stronger before you can expect him to have great success at the high-major level. Tony Parker showed some nice patience in the post, as well as an improved ability to pass out of double teams. However, you do have to keep in mind that he was going against midgets – and they weren’t even athletic midgets. Norman Powell looked like a man among boys and appears capable of having an all-conference senior season. He’s an NBA-level athlete and his decision-making has continued to improve. He looked very comfortable in the half-court or open-court opportunities. And while Thomas Welsh showed some first-game jitters, he also showed that he probably has the best feel for the game of anyone on the team – and he’s seven-feet tall. He’s going to be very good down the road.
The biggest concern, however, was the defense. I thought prior to the season that this team would have to play mostly zone and I didn’t see anything tonight to change that opinion. Alford was a poor defender last season and he was no better Friday night. He constantly loses focus, gets beat off the dribble and loses vision when he’s on the weak side. Hamilton was a poor defender in high school and he wasn’t much better against APU. He’s much skinnier than he was in high school, but didn’t appear to gain any quickness. And that’s a big issue for the Bruins. Other than Powell, they have little athleticism in the backcourt. Azusa Pacific has very little talent, yet they constantly got wide open looks from the three-point line. However, the Cougars made only 7-35 attempts from beyond the stripe. Very few of those shots were really contested.
The Bruins played mostly man-to-man defense with a little zone mixed in at times. And while the Cougars had some success against the zone inside a few times, the zone did give the Bruins a better chance at coming close to contesting some of the three-point attempts. With the Bruin size on the frontline, and lack of quickness in the backcourt, it would seem that their best option most nights will be that zone defense. Especially when you consider that the bench looks to be extremely short this year. Noah Allen had a couple decent moments, but Golomon could probably use a redshirt year and Bail appears to have made a very slight improvement from last year. He’s tall and athletic, and he made a couple hustle plays, but his feel for the game still appears to be lacking.
With two weeks to go before their first real game against Montana State, the Bruins have a lot to work on in practice. As is to be expected, they looked disjointed at times on offense, with some questionable shot selection. Either Alford or Hamilton needs to do a better job of taking control of the offense and finding a way to make their teammates better. One semi-encouraging note was that Hamilton didn’t look to shoot at every opportunity as he did in high school. He’s not a point guard, but at least he showed an inclination to look for his teammates at times in this game. Alford is much better when he takes the open jump shot than when he tries to create off the dribble. Figuring out good shot/bad shot remains an issue for him, though. And while the guards obviously need to get better in their individual defense, the team defense as a whole really needs to improve. Many of those wide-open threes for Azusa came as the result of late, or non-existent, defensive rotations. The Bruins will find it much tougher to score this season than last year, so early-season improvement on defense will be critical.
UCLA Rolls Over Azusa Pacific
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