UCLA Stomps Alabama, 79-57

The Bruins look possessed by the team everyone thought they would be against Alabama in the John Wooden Classic Saturday at the Pond...

UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden, came out of retirement Saturday to lead the Bruins to a 79-57 pasting of 16th-ranked Alabama…

Actually, Steve Lavin and his staff and players did it on their own, using their new-found faith in the zone defense to force Alabama into a horrid shooting night. I said in my pre-game preview that Alabama was susceptible to a good zone, because they don't shoot particularly well from the outside, and I also said that when freshman point guard Maurice Williams isn't in charge the Tide have a habit of forcing up a lot of questionable shots. The Bruins did a good job of staying in front of Williams all game and limiting his opportunities to dish and drive, and as a result Alabama's shot selection was truly terrible for large stretches of the first half and for the final 8 minutes of the game as well, when the Bruins went on a 23-7 surge to close the game out after Alabama clawed to within 56-50 after trailing by double-digits since about the 6-minute mark of the first half . With a powerful inside attack, Alabama wound up launching a ridiculous 33 treys, and they made only 7 of them (they shot just under 29% from the field overall).

While the Bruins won this game with defense, they also ran their offense very well for most of the game. I was tracking the stats on my own and I only noticed 8 Bruin turnovers (I believe they got 9, according to the official stat keepers), compared to 17 team assists. Although Jason Kapono had an off night from outside the arc (3-8), he did get 8 good looks and that's a sign that the Bruins are moving the ball around and moving themselves around in their 1-4. Jason wound up with 22 points (16 in the second half), 6 rebounds and 5 assists and zero turnovers (remember, these are my statistics, not the official numbers). Matt Barnes turned in his best performance of the season, hitting 3s, doing yeoman's work inside in the Bruin zone, banging the boards, knocking down his FTs and doing a terrific job of initiating a lot of the Bruins' offensive sets. Oh, yeah, he also brought the ball down the floor whenever Alabama tried to use its quickness to press the Bruins. Matt finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and zero assists.

The Bruins got a lot of solid contributions all-around as they jumped up on top at the start of the game and never trailed. The Bruins were up 17-9 after about 8 minutes, and the tone of the game seemed to be already set by then: Alabama was already jacking up a lot of 3s, trying to shoot it over 6-7 guys with hands in their faces, and UCLA was making the extra pass and the extra cut and getting a lot of high percentage shots on the other end. Alabama heated up a little, the Bruins forced some bad shots and the Tide closed to within 23-22, but then UCLA went on a 14-1 run over a 6-minute stretch and wound up 40-25 at the half. Alabama's two big guns, Rod Grizzard and Erwin Dudley, both scored just 2 points in the first half and Williams had just 2 assists.

The first 8 minutes of the second half were a complete recapitulation of the first half, though Alabama showed signs of a breakthrough as Grizzard heated up, popping in 10 points in a hurry. Bama's Terrance Meade also got hot from outside, and with the Bruin zone keeping the Bruin big men in front of their counterparts, Dudley and Kenny Walker started getting a lot of offensive boards and baskets inside. Dijon Thompson and Ryan Walcott got some turnovers, Alabama closed to within 56-50 with about 8 minutes left, and they looked like they'd grabbed the momentum. A Jason Kapono 3 and a couple of solid offensive sets led to a 7-0 run for UCLA that put them back in charge. From their on out, Alabama started taking a lot of really bad shots and the Bruins took excellent care of the ball.

Billy Knight didn't shoot the ball very well, forcing up some bad shots, but he was the guy fading Grizzard for most of the night in the matchup zone (the Bruins used both matchup and a 3-2), and he nailed a 3 and his FTs when they counted and finished with 11 points. Indeed, the Bruins were 17-20 from the FT line, a rather amazing stat (Billy was 4-4, Jason was 5-6, Matt was 5-6, Dan was (gasp) 3-4). Dan was solid inside with 9 points and 10 rebounds, though he continues to miss dunks and have trouble holding onto the ball in traffic. He appears to have become very large in the middle of UCLA's zone (he had a big block and a steal, both leading to UCLA conversions at the other end) and is staying out of foul trouble. Rico Hines scored and added 4 rebounds and 2 assists (both nice passes into the post) and a lot of hustle and energy on the outside of the zone.

Off the bench, TJ Cummings got 8 points and 6 rebounds in a very good all-around performance. Dijon Thompson was careless with the ball at times, but made some excellent passes (5 assists) to go with some nice short-range buckets off drives (6 points). Ryan Walcott had 4 points and 3 assists in a nice effort, the best of his career so far. Andre Patterson was limited by foul trouble, but got a nice jam inside off one of Ryan's feeds and also tattooed a ball off Walker's head.

Alabama was led by Meade's 16 points, Dudley's 13/13 and Grizzard's 12/7. Grizzard, Alabama's star, didn't score in the last 9 minutes of the game. Of course, hardly anyone else did for Alabama, either. I had Williams down for 4 points and 4 assists, and as I said above, I think UCLA's ability to restrict his movements to the top of the key with a guy keeping a hand in his face really broke down the Alabama offense. The Tide have had a habit of having the wheels come off their attack for the last two seasons, and the main reason was a lack of a point guard and the questionable shot selection of some key players. With the zone taking away the ability of Alabama both to penetrate and initiate anything from the high post with Dudley or Grizzard, the final result of the game shouldn't be surprising, even if the margin of victory definitely is. The Bruins just brought a better game plan in than Alabama did, and executed better than Alabama did, playing to their strengths (the versatility of a lot of long guys, getting a lot of good looks for Jason and Billy) and forcing Alabama away from their strengths and into their weaknesses.

Hopefully, this win will give the Bruins a big boost in the confidence department as far as finding a team "identity". As they become more comfortable and energetic with their zone, they might be well on their way towards finding a way to consistently disrupt their opponents' offenses, which is basically the key to any team's season: Really good defense, night in, night out. Lavin also seemed to stick with his main guns for longer stretches, keeping Kapono, Barnes and Knight on the floor more than usual and substituting 1-2 guys at a time rather than in waves. If the Bruins aren't going to press, Lavin can be more judicious about using his bench and come up with a more consistent rotation pattern, which should help the Bruins cut down on their turnovers, another essential key to a successful season (with a zone and less pressure, they're not going to cause many turnovers this year). Since the Bruins conditioned themselves for a press in the preseason, they ought to be able to keep their main guys on the floor for long stretches and still play a very active zone. The Bruins must be aggressive at moving their feet and waving those long arms around, or the zone will turn against them when they play more of the top guard-oriented teams in the league like Arizona.

Final comment: I liked Lavin's little halftime dig at the Pauley fans. When he was asked by the television reporter about the raucous Bruin fans at the Pond, Lavin said, "These folks aren't lackadaisical. They really don't get a chance to see us play much, and we don't get down here that often. They're certainly not the usual wine and cheese crowd." Apart from the students, who keep getting squeezed into a smaller and smaller space, UCLA arguably has the most pathetic "home" court crowd of any school in the country. Basically, UCLA doesn't really have a home court, as far as I can tell. It's been that way as long as I can remember, even in the '95 championship year. Maybe they ought to play all their games at the Pond…

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