For the greater part of the season, No. 2 UCLA has been clicking.
But in the past ten days, the Bruins have had three games where their communication and poise has been subpar.
Of UCLA’s 25 wins this year, nine have been decided by three scores or less. Six have come against Big 4 opponents – Cal, Stanford and USC.
The Bruins went 4-2 in those matches, but were 1-2 following the 7-6 victory over then-No. 6 Stanford in late October.
There are a lot of factors contributing to the shift in play, but a noticeable one has been the 6-on-5 offense.
UCLA has gone from a 47 percent power play success rate in its first three Big 4 bouts to 37 percent in its last three matches.
“The threatening towards the cage that we’ve had before, now it almost seems a little like hot potato,” said junior utility player Alex Roelse. “You take it, you take it, and then finally someone will step up and shoot which is not the best thing. We want to put the goalie under pressure and make the whole defense work.”
The poor offensive play, due in part to poor spacing and low-quality shots, has an effect on the defense as well.
“How we’re moving on the outside and inside, we’re not freeing up space for easy opportunities,” said coach Adam Wright. “We’re finding ourselves down because of simple mistakes. We’re giving free goals the other way on counterattacks. In both games last weekend, the (opposing) goals in the first quarter were goals we didn’t contest.”
The Bruin offense has outscored its opponents by an average of two goals in the first quarter, however that has not held up recently against top tier competition. The team averaged nearly five first-half goals against the Big 4 early in the season to just three first-half scores in its past three matches.
The early goals allowed the Bruins to not only take the advantage, but also to dictate the pace of the game. After having never trailed against Stanford and Cal earlier this season, UCLA was down three scores against both Cal and USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships.
“We didn’t stick to our system of play during the games,” said senior defender Chancellor Ramirez. “But through reviewing film, we saw how we could limit mistakes.”
Even with its struggles, UCLA enters the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed and has a chance to rectify its issues in pursuit of a third straight championship.
“We got a new life, the other reality is that we could be done playing,” Wright said. “The lesson learned is that we got to take advantage of every second we have together, because we need to get better.”