Bruins Cruise Past Huskies

Feb. 26 -- The schedule said the Bruins were facing a Pac-12 opponent Wednesday night, but Washington was very reminiscent of some of the non-conference cupcakes the Bruins faced back in December...

UCLA faced a badly out-manned Washington team Wednesday night and the Bruins gave a fairly solid, although far from perfect, effort to come away with an 88-66 win.

Having already lost center Robert Upshaw to suspension, Washington came into this game also missing Shawn Kemp, Jr., who was out with a concussion. The Huskies actually had less size than many of the cupcakes the Bruins beat earlier this season. When junior center Jernard Jarreau picked up two quick fouls early it became almost comical as the Huskies had nothing but guards and wings on the floor. And it wasn’t like those guards and wings were high level players either. So it wasn’t surprising that the Huskies offered almost no resistance. This is a beaten down team that recognized early it had no chance to be competitive. Their attitude for most of the game appeared to be “let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.”

It wasn’t pretty, as the game degenerated very quickly into a bad pickup game once it became obvious that the Huskies had no chance of even being competitive. The Bruins went to Tony Parker early and he scored on a couple of the easiest post-ups we’ve seen all season. Norman Powell attacked the soft Washington defense for a couple easy buckets as well and the Bruins jumped out to an early 19-5 lead. The Bruins got wide open jumps shots, lay-ups off penetration and UW had no answer whatsoever for Tony Parker. He was posting up aggressively and scoring with ease any time he touched the ball.

Given how dominant Parker was early, it would have been nice if the Bruin guards had fed him a bit more, but Norman Powell and Isaac Hamilton were also getting easy looks pretty much every time down the court. Bryce Alford, for once, was actually the guy showing a little more restraint with shot selection. But it’s difficult to find too much fault with the Bruins guards as they were also getting very easy looks throughout the first half. Kevon Looney, as often happens with garbage men, was the one guy that wasn’t getting many touches. He ended the first half with no shot attempts. It’s not a major point in a game that was never in doubt, but it is strange that Coach Alford has been unable to find a way to feature Looney’s talents this season.

The Bruins ended up winning by a comfortable 22-point margin, but it really wasn’t a very enjoyable game to watch. We’ve talked about the Bruins playing AAU style basketball this season, but long stretches of this game were more like a pick-up game. And not a very competitive pick-up game at that. The Bruins scored at will and, not surprisingly, they started to break down in terms of their attention to detail. The transition defense was bad a few times, they started taking some questionable shots early in the shot clock and their zone defense became passive at times. There were several stretches during the game where each team was just running up and down the court making sloppy plays, or bad decisions, and neither coach was calling a time out. As I said, at times it felt like everyone just wanted to get this one over with as quickly as possible.

But while the game was obviously never in doubt, it was interesting to see Coach Alford’s reaction to the sloppy play. He wasn’t calling timeouts when the Bruins’ play got ragged and he seemed content to let the Bruins run up and down the court. And one point, after a particularly long stretch of sloppy play and no stop in the action, I wrote in my notes, “not a details guy.” And that’s about the simplest way I can say it – Coach Alford is not a guy that sweats the details. He’s not like a Gregg Popovich, Rick Majerus or, yes, Ben Howland. Those coaches stop the action as soon as they see their team falling into bad habits and playing careless basketball. Majerus would stop practice and scream at a post player, “why is your left foot six inches from where I told you it’s supposed to be on this play?”

But that’s not Coach Alford’s style. That lack of attention to detail, I’m sorry to say, shows up not only in the blowouts over cupcakes, but also in the more competitive games. Basketball is a game of habits and this team doesn’t play with good habits all the time. Powell takes a quick jump shot, or Hamilton has a weak close-out, or Alford gives fake effort in transition defense. It doesn’t matter in an easy win over a bad UW team. But it does make a difference when the Bruins are on the road in a tough game at Oregon St., Colorado, ASU, etc.

This final stretch of three easy home games against Washington, WSU and USC gives the Bruins a chance to develop some momentum and confidence heading into the Pac-12 tournament. UCLA should win all three games comfortably and the hope would be that they go to Las Vegas playing their best basketball of the season. The Bruins certainly have more talent than the majority of the teams in the conference, but they’ll need to improve on the little things if they’re to have any chance of stringing together some wins on a neutral court.

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