UCLA Resists Pauley Fantasyland

Feb. 12 -- It's tempting for the Bruins to indulge their more selfish nature when playing in Pauley Pavilion, where just about every bad shot goes in, but they resisted it for the most part against Oregon State...

Perhaps all of college basketball should be played on neutral courts.

It’s getting to the point that the difference between teams playing on the road and at home is so extreme.

UCLA beat Oregon State Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion, 75-59, and it wasn’t even that close.

In Corvallis, however, three weeks ago UCLA lost to the Beavers, 66-55.

So, there’s a 27-point swing between the first and second game.

Both teams were completely different in both games.

As we said earlier in the season, what team you really are gets exposed on the road; the team you are at home is your fantasy team.

That proved out to be the case Wednesday, too, when the UCLA fantasy team was just far too much for the Oregon State reality team.

OSU, at Pauley Pavilion, was a pretty bad team. They had essentially one player in Gary Payton, and he’s a point-guard-sized shooting guard. Oregon State’s offense was horrendous, unable to get a good look throughout the entire game except for a couple of successive backdoor cuts by Payton on Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton (Why does Norman Powell commonly not guard the opponent’s best perimeter scorer?). Other than that, and perhaps a small number of other decent looks, OSU was relegated to running down the shot clock and taking a forced, contested shot. It’s what happens when you have no one else who can really shoot, drive or convert in the post.

UCLA, on the other hand, generally played well – in that fantasy world contained within Pauley Pavilion. Offensively they, for the most part, didn’t fall into their usual bane and take bad shots and drives – they generally took shots from open looks and had good ball movement on offense, and cut apart the vaunted OSU zone. On defense, using mostly man, they shut down OSU with very little effort.

You know things are on a fantasy level when, at the end of the first half, your leading scorer – Norman Powell – is scoreless, you’ve committed 9 turnovers and you’re still ahead by 15, 40-25.

All in all, it’s dangerous for UCLA to play in Pauley Pavilion. It gives them a false sense of themselves. After playing two fairly good games on the road in the Bay Area (even though it lost to Cal), where it did some more things right, playing at Pauley allows UCLA to fall back into some bad habits – because they’re successful. Seemingly every three-pointer, regardless of whether it’s an open look or not, goes in at Pauley. UCLA was 10 of 18 from three against OSU. That means UCLA is going to shoot threes – and that translates into ignoring its big men on offense. Yeah, sure, the tactic was to shoot over Oregon State’s zone, but that doesn’t mean your posts don’t get touches. You can literally count the times Tony Parker touched the ball on offense Wednesday. And man, how efficient was he? He scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting and going 7-of-9 from the free throw line. That’s a guy who’s taking advantages of his opportunities.

You really can’t blame the Bruins. It’s Fantasyland at Pauley. Bryce can take a contested shot with a hand in his face – practically blind-folded, in the dark – and the shot will go in. It’s difficult to not keep doing that when it’s working.

To UCLA’s credit, it didn’t take as many bad shots as it did earlier in the season in Pauley Pavilion. It did tend to indulge itself when the game was out of reach, up on OSU by 18+ -- that’s when Bryce and Hamilton start looking to pad their stats a bit. But up until that time, they were relatively disciplined – especially so compared to how they played in Pauley a couple of months ago. For two-thirds of the game there were very few drives to nowhere, and it must be tempting as hell when they’re in Pauley Fantasyland. Bryce and Hamilton, for the first two-thirds of the game, generally took shots that were wide open. The offense was moving the ball around to get that flexing, match-up zone of Oregon State to over-compensate and create open looks. An example of when Bryce is most effective was one offensive sequence when the ball movement created a sag in OSU’s offense and Bryce was left wide open at the top of the key, caught a kick-out and easily drained it. OSU was getting a bit worn down, too, so that it was getting lazy in transition defense – which was showcased in one sequence late in the first half in which Hamilton, on a break, fed Kevon Looney for a dunk, to go up 34-25.

That capped a big run that was truly created by UCLA shutting down OSU’s offense. In the last six minutes or so of the first half, Oregon State shot 3 of 18. For the entire first half they shot 26% from the field. The UCLA 2/3-court press helped, not just creating a couple of turnovers but clearly tiring out the Beavers – which impacted them not only offense but on defense, getting slack in their zone and in transition defense.

Bryce led UCLA with 22 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three. He did it probably with the least amount of drives-to-nowhere he’s ever had at Pauley Pavilion – so there’s that. Hamilton had 16 points and, most impressively, 9 assists, and many weren’t just garbage assists but came from Hamilton actually looking to make the extra pass to get his teammates an opportunity. The light looks like its flickering on for Thomas Welsh, with the 7-footer hitting a pretty baseline turn-around jump hook in rhythm and a baseline jumper.

When UCLA, in Pauley Pavilion, plays unselfishly, they really are watchable. Even sub Noah Allen makes it watchable, when he makes that extra touch pass, or Parker gets fed the ball in the post to exploit his obvious advantage against OSU’s posts, and he converts a beautiful running hook through the lane.

The Bruins deserve credit. There clearly is some fairy dust coming down from the rafters of Pauley that makes just about every Bruin shot go in and every opponent’s shot clank off the rim and bounce perfectly to Looney or Parker. But UCLA, on Wednesday, didn’t overdose on the fairy dust, and played one of its most disciplined games of the season in Pauley.

Seeing OSU exposed for the true team it is only makes it abundantly clear, though, that UCLA is among the top three teams in the conference and probably the second-most talented. A finish on the Pac-12 season that doesn’t reflect that would be under-achieving.

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