Bruins Wipe Out Montana State

UCLA looks pretty in destroying MSU, 113-78, in the season opener, but there just isn't that much you can take from the game...

UCLA won its second exhibition of the season, 113-78.

The exhibition team, something called Montana State, wasn’t nearly as good as the first exhibition opponent, Azusa Pacific, so, like with any exhibition game, it’s tough to take away too much from it.

A poster on the message board said that UCLA’s walk-ons would have beaten MSU, and it definitely looked like that was the case in the last few minutes of garbage time.

A game like this is dangerous, for many reasons. From a fan standpoint, you want to believe in some of the things you’re seeing on the court, but you really can’t buy in entirely. More importantly, for the team, you have to hope that they gain confidence from a game like this but don’t get overly confident.

There were probably a few potential take-aways, the kind you can extract regardless of how bad Montana State was.

Thomas Welsh is going to have a very good shot at supplanting Tony Parker as the starting center. If there was a player who didn’t entirely exploit MSU it was Parker. Playing against a team without a D-1 post player, he still struggled some offensively, playing below the rim at times, and being out-of-sync in the offense. Welsh, on the other hand, looked a little better than in the APU game, showing off his shooting touch and, more importantly his overall advanced feel for the game. He and Bryce Alford had some moments when they were in sync within the offense, in a way that Parker just isn’t capable of – at least at this point in Parker’s development. It appears pretty clearly that Welsh will provide more offense from the five spot (scoring 14 points in 13 minutes Friday); it’s just a matter of how good he can be defensively. It might not be a case where Welsh is actually the “starter,” but we would suspect one of the storylines to watch for the season would be if possibly Welsh ends up playing more minutes at the five than Parker by Pac-12 play.

Kevon Looney is as talented as we anticipated. Even when it’s going up against one of the worst D-1 teams in memory, you can still recognize an NBA-potential talent. His athleticism and length will get him in the League, and it’s just a matter of how long it takes for him to develop the skill set and refine his approach.

UCLA could potentially be a good outside shooting team. Alford looks far more confident and fluid in his stroke from last season; Norman Powell looks incrementally better in his stroke; Isaac Hamilton was a good outside shooter in high school and Friday he looked like he’s getting more comfortable from the outside; and Looney hit a three, and could possibly be able to step out and do that every once in a while. Of course, Friday night was shooting practice, with little or absolutely no defense to contest shots, but you can probably take away that Alford and Hamilton could carry UCLA’s outside shooting responsibility in a solid way for the season.

UCLA is going to continue to want to run and get points in transition. The game blew open about 5 minutes in when MSU seemingly decided to allow the Bruins to get up court in what looked like a break drill against four, or even three, defenders. But to UCLA’s credit, it did it well. Alford had some good assists in transition, and Powell finished with athleticism.

It’s tough to conclude much else. UCLA’s half-court offense was on fire, mostly, again since there wasn’t any defense to speak of. Alford was throwing dimes around and made it look very easy against little or no defense, and Welsh and Looney dominated, like they should, their smaller, over-matched defenders. But when you go up against a team that is going to play a little defense, just any defense, things are going to tighten up.

You can probably take away that UCLA’s defense, like we’ve been saying, is going to be the question. There aren’t too many statistics that are useful from this game, but allowing Montana State to score 78 points and shoot 47% is a bit of a worry. Steve Alford is definitely experimenting with some different defenses, mostly zones. The most interesting is the 1-3-1 with Looney at the top of it and Bryce Alford on the baseline. It was used a few times when UCLA utilized a ¾-court zone, with Looney then settling in to the top of the half-court zone. It obviously is trying to take advantage of Looney’s length, and also hide Bryce Alford’s defensive vulnerabilities. We’ll see how it works against a real team with a real high-major point guard and post player. The standard 2-3 was used perhaps the most of any defense. The man defense looked decent, but it was clear that Alford wanted to get some work in on his zones, which we take as a hint that UCLA is going to be using a great deal of them this season. Perhaps the worst aspect of this game was UCLA’s pretty poor transition defense, allowing MSU easy baskets in transition.

A complete mystery, still, at this point, will be what happens when UCLA’s bench shortens up against good opponents. In the backcourt, Alford and Hamilton only had to play 27 minutes in this game, but we foresee them going for 32+ against real teams, and that presents some potential issues – of fatigue, mostly, but also a point guard dilemma. Alford got in immediate foul trouble to start the game and Hamilton, who isn’t a point guard, took over, and it will be interesting to see, in a similar situation against a real team, if Coach Alford plays Bryce while in foul trouble or goes with Hamilton. It appears the intention is to opt for Hamilton, but that could change. In the frontcourt, Looney played 29 minutes, which is quite a bit for a freshman post that is in a running offense, and we suspect, again, that he’ll probably even have to play more against even just decent opponents. It’s a question of whether Alford will opt for Wanaah Bail and Gyorgy Goloman, who combined for 26 minutes against MSU, or, when up against Kentucky or Arizona, he plays Looney 36 minutes.

Overall, though, it’s very difficult to derive anything of substance from this game, either positively or negatively. It’s really tough to draw any conclusions when the opponent is this bad. Montana State committed 30 fouls and had 22 turnovers. You’d like to say that predominantly because of UCLA, but it’s tough to say.

The Bruins, though, to their credit, were in a great offensive rhythm for the game. I mean, they could have been tentative, but Coach Alford’s offense is a very good one, providing enough structure along with a good amount of freedom to create, and Bryce Alford knows the offense well. It does appear the recipe for the season will be similar to what it was for most of last season – that UCLA will try to outscore its opponents with a mix of high-octane transition and halfcourt offense.

It would work every night if UCLA could play only the Montana States of the world. We have, though, been saying that college basketball is generally pretty bad, and MSU was perhaps the worst in many years. So, maybe that's an indication of just how bad college basketball actually is. Maybe there will be more surprisingly bad teams and, like we said in the season preview, maybe UCLA will greatly benefit from just how bad the rest of D-1 college basketball is this season and comparatively be pretty good.

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