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Men’s basketball to play Detroit Mercy as it dominates transition season

UCLA men’s basketball shot just 2-of-17 from 3-point range in Wednesday’s matchup against Detroit Mercy. The only people to score from beyond the arc were UCLA’s bigs – senior center Thomas Welsh (pictured) and redshirt sophomore forward Alex Olesinski. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin)

By Hanson Wang

November 30, 2017 10:30 pm

Mercy is coming to Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.

But no one is asking for forgiveness, and it will probably only rain for 40 minutes instead of 40 days and nights – 3-pointers, that is.

Detroit Mercy (4-3), which is tied for 31st in the country in attempted 3-pointers per game, and its fast-paced offense will visit UCLA (6-1) for the two teams’ first matchup since the Titans’ first-round upset of the Baron Davis-led Bruins in the 1999 NCAA Tournament.

Both teams rank in the top 30 nationally for adjusted tempo according to kenpom.com, but while UCLA is a respectable 64th in adjusted defensive efficiency, Detroit Mercy is 338th.

That combination makes for an explosive product on the hardwood, and a challenge for coach Steve Alford’s squad to continue its defensive growth since it returned from the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City last week.

“I look for a game that’s going to be very fast paced because everything that I’ve heard, they like to play up and down and they like to play fast,” Alford said. “Obviously, we’re pretty good in transition.”

The Bruins have dominated in transition this season – outscoring their opponents 42-19 in fast-break points – but have work to do defending the 3-point line. UCLA has allowed 66 3-pointers at a 36.7 percent clip compared to only making 47 while shooting 34.8 percent, despite having the theoretical advantage of playing more than half of its games so far at Pauley Pavilion.

But in the past week, Alford’s team has only made seven out of 34 attempts from beyond the arc – UC Irvine and Cal State Bakersfield each hit 10 3-pointers on a higher shooting percentage.

Aaron Holiday – a usually dependable shooter who shot above 41 percent the past two seasons – is going through a cold streak to start the year. The junior point guard missed all five of his long-distance attempts against the Roadrunners and is now shooting 29.7 percent on the year.

“For me, personally, it was just an off night,” Holiday said. “I got open shots, the shots I wanted, but just couldn’t make them.”

UCLA will need to make more shots against Detroit Mercy, which ranks No. 7 in the country with 93.7 points per game. It also helps that the Bruins, who are tied for No. 50 with 84 points per game, shoot an average of 27 free throws a game.

“It’s always good to see the ball go in the basket for shooters,” Holiday said after the win over UC Irvine. “It obviously helped us get our rhythm and it just helped us get to the basket and shoot more free throws.”

And that mindset – knowing shots taken closer to the rim are more likely to go in and free throws are, well, free points – has been especially effective for UCLA’s guards amid this shooting cold spell.

Along with Holiday, redshirt sophomore Prince Ali and freshmen Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes and Chris Smith have combined for 49 free throw attempts in the past two games, hitting 31 of them.

“This team has got to continue to attack the paint,” Alford said. “I think we can be a good driving team. I think we can be a really good team in transition of getting to the rim.”

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Hanson Wang | Alumnus
Wang joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2015 and contributed until he graduated in 2019. He was an assistant Sports editor for the 2016-2017 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, women's soccer, men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Wang joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2015 and contributed until he graduated in 2019. He was an assistant Sports editor for the 2016-2017 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, women's soccer, men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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