Ilane Fibleuil excels defensively against Lafayette despite hand injury
Freshman guard Ilane Fibleuil defends a Lafayette player during a game Friday. (Ella Greenberg Winnick/Daily Bruin staff)
Nov. 13, 2023 4:15 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 14 at 11:06 p.m.
Cruising through campus on a Bird scooter can be a joyride until you arrive at Bruin Walk, where you’re met with a strict dismount policy.
But the stretch of campus en route to the Mo Ostin Basketball Center and parallel to Pauley Pavilion and the Wasserman Football Center is fair game.
Yet scootering proved more liability than convenience for UCLA men’s basketball guard Ilane Fibleuil. The freshman fell off his scooter before the season opener, resulting in a gash on his shooting hand. Fibleuil rode the bench for all but 19 seconds in Monday’s game against Saint Francis, a sharp contrast to his starting nod in UCLA’s exhibition game the week prior.
On Friday, playing through injury, Fibleuil proved pivotal in helping UCLA stave off Lafayette. The French recruit represents the dynamism of UCLA’s new-look roster, which is capable of adapting to different scouting reports with a combination of two-big rotations and four-guard rotations.
“It was tough in the second half because I decided to go small and switch everything,” said coach Mick Cronin. “I knew at some point tonight it might be a possibility that I had to do it, but it was time. … I had to try and get five guys who could get a stop, and Ilane is one of our better defenders.”
Lafayette spread the floor early, knocking down five 3-pointers in the first half, and effectively executed the scout against sophomore forward/center Adem Bona. With Bona coming off of a career-high 28-point performance against Saint Francis, Cronin said he and his staff didn’t adequately prepare the big to move the ball against the Leopards’ swarm of defenders. Bona posted six points and six rebounds on the night.
“Adem struggled. I told him, … ‘They’re going to be all over you, and you’re going to have to pass it out,'” Cronin said. “If you can’t catch it and score, you have to make a post move. They’re going to be all over you – they watched the game the other night – so we failed that.”
On a night where Bona also encountered early foul trouble and the Bruins were down one big in freshman forward Devin Williams, Fibleuil helped UCLA’s four-guard rotation transform a three-point halftime deficit into an 18-point final advantage.
“To win the trophy, you’ve got to dance to every song they play. You can’t just play the big lineup – sometimes you’ve got to play the small lineup,” Cronin said. “Winning players come in all types of different packages, so that’s why Ilane is a key recruit for us.”
Fibleuil tallied just five points, three rebounds and one assist, but he commanded the highest plus/minus on the floor at 27 in just under 25 minutes of play. Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic, sophomore guard Dylan Andrews and freshman guard Sebastian Mack primarily comprised the remainder of the backcourt for the Bruins on Friday, with each posting double-digit scoring.
Andrews and Mack pitched in 18 points apiece, while Stefanovic notched four steals on the night.
Andrews said calibrating the lineup in the second half to counter Lafayette’s offensive strategy helped UCLA get stops.
“The smaller lineup, we could switch one through five, and we realized that was working, so we stayed with it,” Andrews said. “Main thing coming out of the second half, we were just focused on defense and stops and rebounds.”
Stefanovic added that the four-guard rotation also allowed the Bruins to limit the Leopards’ perimeter success, signaling a significant adjustment in the second half for them to stave off an upset.
“30 out of 52 shots were 3s, so we had to start the drives,” Stefanovic said. “We had to go small, and I think that helped us a lot. That’s something that tactically we just changed. … We’re switching a lot in the second half and just staying in front of the ball so they didn’t have open 3s.”
Barely a week into the season, each game presents a case study into the evolving rotations Cronin can wield to get UCLA into the win column.
Friday’s matchup ultimately revealed the fluidity with which the Bruins can continue approaching their nonconference slate – barring any further scooter injuries.