The Bruins will have to pick up the pace Tuesday.
After winning by 52 points in its exhibition against NYIT, No. 21 UCLA men’s basketball will open its season hosting Purdue Fort Wayne.
The Bruins ranked third in their conference in pace last season, but the Mastodons ranked higher than any Pac-12 team at 75.5 possessions per game. Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes said transition defense will be crucial against the Mastodons.
“We really have to get back in transition a lot,” Wilkes said. “Our offense is definitely going to work out well, but defensewise, if we get back in transition, slow them down (and) get them set more in the half court, … then we’ll be good.”
UCLA limited NYIT to 28 points in the paint and forced the Bears to turn the ball over 20 times.
Purdue Fort Wayne boasts a four-guard lineup that put up 13 fast break points and 46 points in the paint in its exhibition win over DePauw on Oct. 30.
Coach Steve Alford said limiting fast break opportunities starts from the offensive end in order to control opponents’ transition game.
“Purdue Fort Wayne does a great job in transition, so we’ve got to do a very good job with transition defense,” Alford said. “I’ve always been a big believer in one of the ways of handling transition defense is the type of shots you get.”
After UCLA allowed the third most points in the Pac-12 last year, Wilkes said the freshman class adds to the Bruins’ emphasis on defense this season.
“They’re real defensive-oriented, so they’re pretty good on ball and off the ball,” Wilkes said. “So really just contesting hard and keeping (Purdue Fort Wayne) off the line will help us out a lot.”
In UCLA’s exhibition game, NYIT got to the charity stripe 32 times. Freshman center Moses Brown, who had two fouls, said he has been working on positioning in order to play smarter on defense.
“(Alford) wants me to get in position and not just swipe at everything,” Brown said. “(I have to know) where I’m at on the court because if I’m out of position, that leads to fouling, so I have to be in the right spots at all times and be aware on defense.”
Purdue Fort Wayne averaged 10.3 3-pointers per game last season, knocking down 36.6 percent of the long-range shots it took.
Alford said the Mastodons’ fast-paced offense will be a test for his inexperienced squad.
“(Purdue Fort Wayne is) a big challenge of how they like to spread you and space you,” Alford said. “They’ve always been a very efficient offensive team, so right out of the chute, this is a team that’s going to present a lot of problems for our young defense.”
Wilkes said that for this year’s young team – an eight-player rotation with just one upperclassman – UCLA needs to avoid getting caught watching on the perimeter.
“Hopefully, in the game, we’ll remember once the shot gets up, if you’re outside the 3-point line, just get back,” Wilkes said. “As long as we get back, that will help us out a lot to at least slow them down and wait for the other guys to come back.”