Watching the Bruins get dismantled by a bad Oregon team Saturday afternoon in Eugene, a phrase kept running through my head: “The whole is less than the sum of its parts.”
That’s the simplest way I can describe the problem that ails this UCLA team. The Bruins have some talent, with a surefire pro in Kevon Looney, McDonald’s All-Americans in Thomas Welsh and Isaac Hamilton (overrated, but better than he’s showing now) and a senior in Norman Powell who will be making money playing basketball somewhere for the next 10-15 years. Even Bryce Alford, who has many flaws, has some ability if used correctly.
The issue isn’t a lack of talent or the fact that Tony Parker didn’t play this weekend. The Bruins have more talent than both Oregon State and Oregon. What they don’t have, which was painfully obvious this weekend, is coaching. And that lack of coaching manifested itself in a variety of ways during this road trip. I’ve seen intramural teams that played with more organization, focus, fundamentals, effort and cohesiveness than the Bruins showed in the past two games. The Bruins got run out of the gym by a bad Oregon team. In some ways, this was worse than the Kentucky game. At least in that game the Bruins were blown out by a bunch of future pros. There was an obvious difference in the talent level of the two teams. In this game, the Bruins had more talent than their opponent and they still lost by 18.
The biggest issue in this game was that one team had five individuals running around as individuals, while the other team (the one with less talent) actually played as a unit at both ends of the court. The inability to play as a team hurt the Bruins at both ends, but it really killed them on defense. Oregon shot 62% for the game and it was only that low because they cooled off a bit at the end when the game was out of reach. UCLA gave almost no effort on defense and there was zero communication or help defense. However, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. For the vast majority of last season, Coach Steve Alford didn’t demand defensive effort. Players were not benched when they played no defense and that trend has only continued this season.
Of course, as we’ve said a few times, Alford can’t really hold any of the players accountable for poor defensive effort when his son is the worst offender on the team. Unfortunately, that continued in this game as Bryce repeatedly played only token defense and routinely lost his man. Bryce wasn’t the only offender, though, as Hamilton was beaten like a drum and Powell had several breakdowns as well.
With Powell, it’s painfully obvious that he’s becoming increasingly frustrated and disheartened during his senior season. He started out the season playing like an NBA draft pick but, once he saw Hamilton and Alford jacking up horrible shots, he started to do the same. I can’t say I blame him, as I’ve never seen a pair of more selfish guards than Hamilton and Alford. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for a guy that has legitimate pro aspirations, in his senior season, to have to play with guys that are far less talented and so incredibly selfish. That selfishness was on display for the whole country to see as Noah Allen, in only 14 minutes, led the Bruins with three assists. Meanwhile, Alford and Hamilton had four assists combined in 72 minutes. Sorry, that’s just bad coaching. Who is holding these guys accountable?
Speaking of frustration, I wonder what Looney is thinking when he looks at the box score and sees that he went 7-9 from the field while Hamilton and Alford combined to go 7-23. If this were a one game anomaly, I might be inclined to give Coach Alford a pass. But this has been going on all season. That’s just bad coaching. You’ve got a lottery pick on your team shooting 45% from the field and he’s taken 55 less shots than Bryce Alford (shooting 38% on the season and 30% in conference). You know what happens if you put these guys on a team that’s playing on the playground? Alford isn’t taking 55 more shots than the future lottery pick. Or if he does, he’s coming away with some bruises.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Bryce’s teammates are growing weary of his bad shots. At one point, Welsh got an offensive rebound, saw a wide open Bryce standing at the three-point line, looked him off and passed it to someone else. Normally, I’d say that’s a bad play by Welsh. But that’s the kind of play you see when selfishness infects a team and the coach doesn’t hold anyone accountable.
The Ducks, as I noted, are not a good basketball team. But in this game, going against the softest defense they’ll face all year, they got hot and couldn’t miss during the first half. That will happen sometimes when you’re playing at home, the other team offers no resistance and you get nothing but wide open shots. It didn’t matter whether the Bruins were playing man or zone defense; Oregon got quality looks against both defenses. The Ducks came into the game shooting 33% from three-point range, but knocked down 9-13 against the Bruins. Early in the game, Oregon did suffer a few unforced turnovers. But once they took care of the ball, and made the Bruins defend for more than ten seconds, they started getting easy open looks.
This Bruin team obviously has little depth and there are various holes in each player’s game. However, it’s blatantly obvious that they are no longer even attempting to play as a team. In the second half, the “AAU ball” went to a new level. Alford, Hamilton and Powell repeatedly tried to make individual plays off the dribble, there was little to no ball movement, and everyone else stood around and watched. I know this is a radical thought, but it’s possible that this offense actually does need a point guard. Either that or I need to drink a lot more vodka while I’m watching, because that stuff is hard to watch.
With any dim hopes of the NCAA tournament now extinguished (absent a miracle run in the conference tournament), the question becomes whether or not Coach Alford can keep this team from completely imploding. In addition to the lack of teamwork we’re seeing at both ends of the court, there’s also a growing issue of unhappy players, frustration and bad body language. As is always the case in these situations, losing only makes things worse. If the team is winning then a lot of the grievances and issues get swept under the rug. But when the team is losing, and players aren’t playing as well as they had hoped (particularly with perceived pro careers on the line), then you have the potential for real problems. Add in a coach’s son taking more shots than anyone on the team, while shooting the lowest percentage, and you’ve got a potentially combustible situation.
If Tony Parker can play next week that will obviously help to some extent. He is the Bruins’ best back-to-the-basket threat and he was playing well before the back spasms sidelined him. However, it should be clear to everyone that Parker’s absence this weekend was only a small part of the problem. You can still give a focused effort, playing as a team at both ends, without Parker on the court. You can still share the ball without Parker. You can still run an offense without Parker. Yes, it would have helped to have Parker in Oregon. But the Bruins’ issues as a team run much deeper than the absence of their junior center for one weekend. And if Coach Alford doesn’t somehow address those issues there is a very real possibility that things get worse over the remainder of the season.
Bruins Reach New Low
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