UCLA opened the season with a narrow 72-67 win over Drexel, sprinkling some good moments of transition offense in with uneven defense. Coach Steve Alford was generally positive afterward, and maintained that the problems he saw were very fixable.
“You either win that opener or you lose that opener,” he said, “and winning the opener feels a lot better than losing.”
Some notes and quotes from the game:
1. Kyle Anderson looks very comfortable at point guard. He had the ninth double-double of his career with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and chipped in 7 assists too. His offensive game also looked a little more polished: he hit a lot of contested layup attempts that he seemed to miss last year.
“It feels very good to have the ball in my hands,” Anderson said. “I feel like I make a lot of my teammates better. They do a great job running the floor. Whenever somebody’s working hard on the floor, I love to reward them like I did today.”
Half-court offense was an issue, though. Once Drexel took away transitions early in the second half, the gap closed quickly.
2. Zach LaVine makes for a great sixth man. The freshman gives the Bruins instant offense off the bench, and can score from just about anywhere on the court. He didn’t have any highlight dunks Friday — mistiming an open fast break as well as an alley-oop feed from Anderson — but showed off his range as he drilled a series of deep threes.
He led UCLA with 11 points at halftime, and finished with 14. It was a little reminiscent of what Jordan Adams did early last season, coming in as one of the team’s secondary options and just pouring in buckets.
“Me and Zach always talk about that,” Adams said. “I just guide him and tell him to come in, be aggressive.”
Added coach Steve Alford: “Zach (LaVine) was just tremendous. He did a lot of good things for us. … Your first college game, that’s not easy to do.”
3. UCLA sorely needs bigs. This isn’t a big secret, but remains the Bruins’ biggest need moving forward. With Travis Wear (appendicitis) and Wanaah Bail (knee) both out, UCLA was vulnerable as soon as Tony Parker picked up three fouls. Parker had his moments, draining a pretty turnaround jumper early and flushing in a dunk late, but only played 20 minutes. He finished with six points, five rebounds, and a block.
With just him and David Wear to man the post, UCLA allowed 32 points in the paint, as well as 10 second-chance points. (I’m sure there’s some overlap between those two numbers.)
4. The Bruins look much better in zone defense. UCLA switched between man and zone, and will likely continue switching throughout the season. Both lack of depth and ability should dictate heavier use of the latter, however, at least in the near future. With just two bigs available for another two weeks or so, the Bruins softness inside will be obvious to all opponents.
“Our zone defense was good and was great in certain stretches,” Alford said. “The defensive numbers were good. We’ve been practicing the zone and we’ll continue getting better.”
5. Bryce Alford’s critics have fuel. Steve Alford noted after the game that UCLA got eight assists and just two turnovers out of the point guard position. Bryce, however, was only responsible for one assist against one turnover. He also launched an ill-advised 3-pointer with 23 seconds left, clanking it as the Bruins clung to a three-point lead.
He finished 1-of-5 from the field in 20 minutes, but more egregious was his defensive performance. Drexel guard Frantz Massenat blew past Alford on four straight possessions midway through the first half, scoring 7 points in less than two minutes and finishing with a game-high 20.
From earlier this week, here are five questions that UCLA needs to answer this season.