Where film and practice fall short, a little UCLA basketball history appears to be helping break a recent trend of sluggish offensive performances for the Bruins.
In analyzing what went wrong in the first half of a Saturday loss to Utah, in which UCLA shot just 31 percent from the field, the Bruins have been able to sum things up in the words of legendary men’s basketball coach John Wooden.
“Be quick, but don’t hurry,” Wooden was known to say during his tenure in Westwood. He wanted his players to use their athletic talents to an advantage over opponents, but not to the point where sloppiness was the only visible on-court characteristic.
Aside from a 4-for-7 shooting effort from sophomore guard/forward Kyle Anderson, the Pac-12’s No. 2 scoring offense looked hurried in the first 20 minutes in Salt Lake City, settling for contested shots and only shooting five free throws during the half.
“I just thought we got a little complacent in our offense,” said coach Steve Alford. “We want to play quick, we want to play up-tempo, but offensively we got in a hurry and because of that we took more difficult shots than we have been.”
The Stanford defense UCLA will face at home on Thursday is statistically more of a middle-of-the-pack bunch, allowing 68.9 points per game, but some offensive adjustments might have to become more permanent, regardless of the opponent. Over the course of the team’s 18 games this season, it appears opposing teams have been hurrying to watch film on the Bruins and recognizing their struggles in a set half-court offense. Being quick may quickly become a thing of the past.
“There’s more tape out on us now, and I think teams are taking away our transition a little more now, so we’re settling and we have to work on a half-court game and a half-court execution,” said redshirt senior forward Travis Wear. “It’s something that we really didn’t have to work on early in the season because we were getting so many easy buckets.”
The buckets proved rather difficult for a handful of Bruins over the weekend, including sophomore guard Jordan Adams, who sank just two of his 10 three-point attempts over the two games, and freshman guard Bryce Alford, who didn’t log a field goal in 11 attempts.
While Steve Alford said Adams looked individually hurried over the two-game stretch, the clearest justification for Bryce Alford’s tough trip came from freshman guard Zach LaVine, who claimed to overcome rough shooting nights against teams like Duke and Arizona by putting up at least 500 jumpers a day.
“Bryce works hard,” LaVine said. “You can’t make every shot every day. You’re human. Michael Jordan missed millions of shots. Every day you just get in the gym and work harder, and we’re about to get back on a roll again.”
Against an experienced Stanford (12-5, 3-2 Pac-12) starting five, comprised of three juniors and two seniors, UCLA (14-4, 3-2) will likely have to rely on the hot hand of Anderson, who scored a career-high 28 points on Saturday, adding seven assists and seven rebounds.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Athletic Club took notice, naming Anderson to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list, along with 24 other players. While the accolades are a testament to better shot selection and a higher offensive IQ, Anderson’s biggest strides, Steve Alford said, have come in his on-court maturity.
“He’s been tremendous,” Alford said. “He’s been one of the best point guards in the country. His maturity has been terrific.”