Given UCLA's offensive production this year, we might -- finally -- be able to call the early non-conference slate by its time-honored traditional name once again: the cupcake platter.
The latest morsel finding its way to UCLA's plate was Long Beach State, and the Bruins wasted little time in dismantling the 49ers, running out to a 56-37 halftime lead and then 114-77 win.
It was UCLA's most thorough win of the season, with the offense looking decidedly better than it's looked this year, which is impressive given how the offense has looked this year. UCLA shot 65% from the field and 60% from three, and at times the ball-sharing was a thing of beauty, with Lonzo Ball's natural unselfishness clearly rubbing off on the rest of the team. How's this for a stat? Of the rotational players, Bryce Alford took fewer shots than all but Gyorgy Goloman, and it's no surprise that he ended up with his most efficient scoring line to date, with 15 points on just 8 shots.
Now, of course Long Beach State isn't any good. It doesn't really matter, though, because UCLA did what it's supposed to do against not-very-good teams, but it's worth mentioning because the 49ers being not good certainly helped tilt the final score to its ultimate margin. Long Beach State committed 23 turnovers, and while UCLA certainly appeared to be more active on defense than the Bruins were in, say, their last game, many of those 23 turnovers were unforced travels or just errant passes that had little to do with defensive pressure.
UCLA did a great job converting those turnovers into 28 points. This is clearly going to be a very good fast break team, and it's already pretty efficient at converting opportunities thanks to the natural open-court ability of Ball. He truly has special vision, and in a game like this against a bad opponent, it's like a cheat code. Every time he was in the game with the ball and there was an open Bruin, he not only found him, but placed the ball basically perfectly for the shot to get off with no trouble. He also once again made his three pointers, and until he goes against high major guards and forwards who can play him close, he's going to have little trouble getting his shot off.
T.J. Leaf, Ball's fellow freshman, was very active and is now averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, which...is pretty good! He did a lot of good work around the basket and also nailed a few mid-range jumpers in addition to a three. He's been stronger around the glass than we might have expected, but it's worth noting that UCLA has yet to face any high quality posts, so it bears watching whether that holds up once UCLA faces tougher opponents in the coming weeks and months. In any case, he's clearly not going to need a year of adjustment, as many freshman posts need, and is obviously an impact player.
If you want one concern, UCLA's defense was a small bit better than it was last week against San Diego, but there were still lapses in effort and overall focus over the course of the game. UCLA gave up 77 points to a team that turned it over 23 times, and allowed Long Beach State to shoot 46% from the field and 50% from three. On the flip side, UCLA allowed a team to shoot that well and still beat that team by nearly 40 points, so there's that to consider as well. Of course, UCLA is going to play high-possession games this year so the scores on both sides might be a little outsized, but it's the percentages we really care about. Again, the overall effort looked a bit better, so hopefully it's the start of a trend for UCLA going into some tougher games this week and then Kentucky and more in the weeks following.
As we said up top, Alford mostly played within himself on offense, and contributed to the flow of the offense, moving the ball well to the tune of 6 assists. If you were being uncharitable, you could argue that one or even two of his shots were a little forced, but that's well within the normal range for any player (even Ball forced a shot in this game), and he certainly didn't fall into any sort of chucking pattern. With 8 shots, and six of them from three, Alford played about his ideal offensive game.
Thomas Welsh was pretty efficient offensively, making six of his nine shots and looking very comfortable from his usual mid-range spots. We'd still like to see him get tougher on the glass, but he showed some ability to rebound out of his area in this game, swooping in to grab a couple when he wasn't in great position. Gyorgy Goloman played 18 minutes and wasn't overmatched against Long Beach State.
Isaac Hamilton's old-man game was once again on point, and he made a variety of runners and layups around the basket, in addition to four of six from three. He's picking up more or less where he left off last year, when he somewhat miraculously turned into a mostly efficient offensive player. He's shooting 56% from three, and despite being a volume shooter, has generally taken decent shots.
When Aaron Holiday initially came into the game, he was pressing quite a bit and had two early turnovers, but he settled into the game as it wore on and produced a very good offensive night while also providing some solid defense on the other end. He finished 7 of 10 from the field and had five assists. Four players had four assists or more in this game, and overall UCLA had 27 against just 11 turnovers.
UCLA plays again on Thanksgiving night, and then will have two more games over the weekend, so it'll be interesting to see how the team responds to a more compressed schedule than they've dealt with this year. The early returns are certainly positive on offense, but the jury is still out on whether this will be an improved team defensively. The offense is good enough to win the Bruins more games than the offense was able to do last year, but there's a hard ceiling to this team unless it plays consistently above-average defense. Sunday night's game was a small step forward, but we'll need to see some larger ones in the coming weeks.