Zach LaVine was all alone.
The freshman guard raced ahead of the pack on a breakaway during UCLA’s season opener against Drexel, leaped and cocked his arm back, ready to unleash one of his already-signature tomahawk dunks. But things didn’t quite go according to script.
LaVine jumped too early and the ball slipped slightly from his hand. He readjusted midair, trying to turn the dunk into a layup, but the ball rolled harmlessly off the rim and out.
LaVine’s slipup mirrored those of his team. As the ball slipped from his fingers, the Bruins’ lead began to slip from theirs.
The Bruins made things harder for themselves Friday, narrowly escaping with a 72-67 win after allowing an early 13-point advantage to evaporate and leave them leading by just one point with about two minutes remaining.
As UCLA (1-0) heads into its second game of the season tonight against Oakland (0-1), the team has plenty it’s looking to improve upon.
The Bruins’ most notable miscue was their lack of energy coming out of halftime. After heading into the break with a comfortable 11-point lead, UCLA saw that number cut to four as Drexel opened the second half with a 9-2 run in just three minutes.
Maintaining their strong first-half play in the second period is something sophomore guard/foward Kyle Anderson said the Bruins will look to work on starting with their game against Oakland.
“We just gotta learn to hit first coming out of the half. And we’re a young team. That’s just gonna come with time and we’re gonna get better,” Anderson said. “We gotta learn to hit first out of halftime, capitalize on opportunities coming out of the timeouts, and that’ll just come with time.”
The diminished second-half energy was also evident in UCLA’s defensive play. After holding the Dragons to 30-percent shooting in the first half, the Bruin defense allowed Drexel to shoot 45.5 percent in the second half. Maintaining the defensive energy from the first half is a key area sophomore guard Jordan Adams is looking to fix against Oakland.
“(We need to improve on) playing defense for 40 minutes of the game,” Adams said. “We played all-right defense in the first half – that’s why we had the lead – but then it let up.”
But while UCLA’s on-court performance needs some work, coach Steve Alford was more concerned with keeping his players from working too hard between games.
“Just playing seven guys, all seven guys got 20-plus minutes, so we’ve got to do a good job at getting some rest,” Alford said.
With a busy November schedule that features seven games in three weeks, Alford said he’s stressing the importance of learning from game film, rather than practice, to his team.
And while the Bruins’ performance Friday provided plenty of mistakes to nitpick in the film room, Alford heads into tonight’s matchup against Oakland pleased with where his team is at.
“There were a lot of positives. I loved the effort. I loved our shot selection. I loved how we took care of the ball. I loved that we had some toughness at times, pretty consistently to our defense,” Alford said. “We had some breakdowns – it’s gonna happen … (but) those are things we can correct.”