Thomas Welsh (USA Today)

UCLA Plays Least Bad Basketball and Wins

Nov. 24 -- It was some bad basketball, but UCLA played the least amount, riding its 3-2 zone and great free-throw shooting to the win over UNLV, 77-75...

That wasn’t great basketball.

But UCLA held on to ultimately prevail over UNLV, 77-75.

There was a predominant feeling in the second half that whichever team didn’t give away the game would win it. 

With UNLV up 65-64 with 6:02 left, however, UCLA turned up the defensive intensity and held UNLV scoreless until the :44 mark, and that was good enough for a Bruin win.

It was a good defensive stand, but again, it was also quite a bit about UNLV being really incompetent on offense.

There were 35 turnovers in this game, with UCLA responsible for 19 of them.  The two teams shot 41% and 45% from the floor. There were open missed dunks to seal the game, circus-like drives, and probably double-digit air balls. 

UCLA’s starters all individually had more turnovers than assists. 

The only truly superlative element of this game, and it’s probably what won it for UCLA, was the 96% it shot from the free-throw line.  The Bruins hit 23 free throws in a row.  In a bad game where there is so much badness, that’s really something that will win it for you.

There were a few other key moments in the second half.  For a stretch it seemed like Bryce Alford was the only player on the floor who could play offensive basketball.  Isaac Hamilton hit a big three-pointer that gave UCLA the lead at the 3:23 mark.  Thomas Welsh made some clutch mid-range jump shots.

But there wasn’t much else. 

Bryce had 20 points and, while he did do his usual thing of scoring when UCLA needed it, he did his other usual thing of then following that up with some forced drives and shots.  When he makes a few key shots he immediately goes into hero-ball and there isn’t a shot he doesn’t like.

Hamilton didn’t play well, collecting 8 turnovers, shooting 3 for 5 and playing some pretty poor defense.  In a sustained stretch, it seemed that UNLV players took turns torching him. His handle just isn’t good, and combine that with a lack of strength, any real defenders can easily force him into some turnovers. 

The foul-machine version of Tony Parker returned, with Parker playing only 11 minutes because he picked up his second foul quickly in the first half and then picked up his third at the end of the first half. 

UCLA’s bench wasn’t great. Alex OlesinskiJonah Bolden and Prince Ali went a combined 3 for 10, with four turnovers.

The starting backcourt of Alford, Hamilton and Holiday had four assists and 11 turnovers.

You could make the case that, even with some sloppiness and some occasional lapses of getting out of control, Holiday had a good game.  He is an absolute ice-in-the-veins free-throw shooter, casually knocking down four free throws in the last minute, looking like he was doing it on his own driveway. 

You could make the case that Welsh played well, scoring 20 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, playing 34 minutes with Parker in foul trouble.

The key tactical move of the game was UCLA going to its 3-2 zone with about 12 minutes left in the first half, and UNLV looked like they had never seen a zone before.  UCLA went on a 21-4 run and established its biggest lead of the game.  It was pretty comical how UNLV, then, tried different tactics to offset the zone.  It moved into basically a four-corner offense to try to stretch out UCLA’s zone and create seams, and that worked some.  It took hurried threes, and thus the air balls.  It tried an Early Offense, before UCLA could get set in its zone, and that resulted in more ugly shots.  It tried quick ball movement, but without any screening or player movement.  And even with most of it failing, UCLA’s defense got really slack at times, particularly about midway through the second half when it allowed UNLV back in the game, with the Rebels taking the lead with 8 minutes left.   UCLA mostly obliged by going scoreless itself for four minutes, giving UNLV enough chances against UCLA’s mediocre zone to then take that lead.

The 3-2 zone, though, was good enough to thwart UNLV.  Or UNLV wasn’t good enough to offset the zone.  It’s questionable just how good the zone is. Welsh, without Parker, allowed some interior space that UNLV exploited a couple of times.  Whenever the Rebels did move the ball fairly well it created wide-open shots.  UNLV, clearly, wasn’t very good against it, though, so it really didn’t provide enough indication of just how well that zone will function against a good offensive team.

It did function well enough, though, to beat UNLV.

But we’re skeptical it will work against #5-ranked Kansas, who UCLA faces in the second round of the Maui Invitational tonight.



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