Bruins narrowly survive Dragons in season opener

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.

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  • Mark

    I really enjoyed the chat you hosted here during the game. Oh, wait…

    • maze949

      Uh, why would a season ticket holder care if there wasn’t a chat? “I’ll give up my season tickets if Howland isn’t fired!” Repeated ad nauseam last season by this blog’s resident loser.

      • Mark

        I’m not going to a game that starts at 9 pm. If Ucla is beholden to the TV network, then I’ll follow their lead and watch on TV.

        • maze949

          You either got caught LYING (again) about being a season ticket holder or you’re just a sh*tty fan: take your pick. Either way, you’re pathetic.

      • Mark

        And by the way a Howland-coached team loses that game…

  • Marc

    Bryce Alford played way too many minutes in the second half. He clearly is the least talented player on the team.

    His, what, 1-5?, shooting almost helped lose the game along with his pourus defense.

    He jacked up that unneeded 3 pointer late in the second half with UCLA leading by 3, I believe. Of course, it was a wild miss and led to a fast break opportunity for the opposition.

    He is the biggest defensive liability, often looking completely lost out there. He constantly gets beat by whomever he’s guarding, which causes the interior defense to scramble.

    I said it in the preseason, and I’ll say it again: will coach Alford be able to bench his kid when he clearly becomes a liability? Will he listen to anyone who tells him that his son is a liability?

    I’m not so sure.

    • Mark

      It just one game. No one looked spectacular. It’s more important to know If Bryce can recognize his faults on his own. He’s used to being the best player (by far). Now he adapts to the college game.

      • Marc

        Well, he may have dominated high school basketball, but where? New Mexico? Against what type of competition?

        His body type alone suggests he is out if his element at UCLA. He doesn’t move his feet well. He has terrible shot selection; I mean, just terrible.

        His dad has a job; coach the UCLA men’s basketball team. Part of the process in doing his job is identifying weaknesses and overcoming them.

        If he can’t get his kid in better show and teach him better basketball skills, then his kid needs to ride the pine.

        I will not back down on this until this kid does one of two things: starts playing way better consistently or rides the pine.

  • Dylan Maddox McGinty

    Anyone who knows how to read a game could see that Bryce is not close to being ready for UCLA level D1 ball. Anderson, LaVine and Powell each had spectacular moments, Mark, while Bryce looked absolutely overmatched.

  • guest

    Balford looked horrible. Nepotism only goes so far…