UCLA’s five-game winning streak ended on Saturday in an 89-76 loss to No. 11 North Carolina. The Bruins ran out an early lead in Brooklyn thanks to some hot 3-point shooting, but their turnover habit allowed the Tar Heels to tie the game before the break.
While beating Kentucky and Gonzaga still puts UCLA ahead of the curve in its nonconference schedule, its second half against UNC exposed some of its flaws. The No. 22 Bruins struggled to defend in transition, giving up a final tally of 14 fast-break points. And, with Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh both getting into foul trouble, 6-foot-10 forward Brice Johnson erupted for 27 points — making 11 shots in a row after missing his first attempt.
UCLA finished with only 11 assists against 17 turnovers, which led to 24 points for North Carolina.
STEVE ALFORD: I’m really proud of our guys. We have had a really good stretch. We’ve shown growth and improvement. I thought we did that again in the first half of this game. We did a nice job in a lot of areas. We just had two glaring weakness today. That was turnovers, which we’ve done a really good job in the past two weeks of limiting turnovers. We had too many turnovers and we just couldn’t get stops in transition.
This is a really good basketball team. It’s got a lot of experience, a lot of seniors, depth, big. They’re just really good and really talented. I appreciate how our guys fought. We’ve shown growth in the past two and a half weeks. What this game proves is that there’s still a lot of growth to go. Hopefully, that’s the message our guys can get out of it.
We have one more non-league game. We take a little break. Then, we come back and have about eight days before we start a very difficult league. We’ve got the better part of two weeks to continue that growth. Hopefully, our guys see that.
Q. For Tony, what do you think the impact was of you getting the four fouls and not playing very much for quite a stretch there in the second half? Because it seemed like that was where they really attacked the basket.
TONY PARKER: It was huge. It was big. I let my teammates down. That was just — foul trouble cannot be a problem in this game, and it was. It really hurt us in the second half.
Q. How tough was it to stop when Brice Johnson was pulling, especially in the final 4:27, he had 11 shots? How was that?
PARKER: He runs well. When you’re in foul trouble, you tend to be less aggressive. Me and Tom just got to stay aggressive and keep our bodies moving. I think that’s where he got us. We stopped moving on a lot of plays and cross screens. We’ve got to stay active and keep moving because he’s a very active player.
Q. Isaac, last year against North Carolina was probably worse than last season. This game you come out and make four in a row to start the game. What was it that gave you confidence early on? Same thing against Gonzaga, how did you get the rhythm on the rim?
ISAAC HAMILTON: I felt like I was open. Just took good shots. Once one went down, I feel better, and I feel like the next one will go down as well. So just keep shooting, keep playing, being aggressive, and basically that’s where I get my confidence, builds from that.
Q. For the players, on the first day you built up the lead, feels like you had a few opportunities to stretch that even more. Do you feel that’s where you lost the opportunity to really open this game up?
PARKER: No, we came out, and it was even. We knew North Carolina was a great team. We knew they were going to make runs. We weathered it. The game was tied. We didn’t do what we needed to do in the second half. That was the big thing.
Q. Coach, could you just evaluate what you saw from Brice Johnson. What kind of threat he was?
ALFORD: He’s a pretty good threat. 11 for 12 and 9 rebounds. He’s definitely taken up the slack since Meeks has been out. This is a scary team. You look at this team and add Meeks to it, it’s as good a team as we’ve played.
I think Johnson is playing at a really high level now. We thought a key was going to be which bigs got in foul trouble, and our bigs got in foul trouble. That’s going to affect us. I thought it eventually caught up to us because the difference was points off turnovers and points in the paint. Obviously, Johnson has a lot to do with that.
Q. You mentioned turnovers, but you had improved. Since December it’s been pretty low. How much of that was what North Carolina does defensively and how much was sloppiness as well?
ALFORD: Well, one of the things that happened, we got in foul trouble. Then the pressure came. We had a good rhythm going, and they went to our traps, which we knew just through film that’s something they were going to go to. I didn’t think we handled the traps very well. A lot of it was bigs not being able to pass out of the traps. We were hoping it was going to be guards that got trapped, but it ended up being bigs that got trapped.
Early on, our turnovers, if I’m not mistaken, 8 of our 11 turnovers at the half were on the bigs. We’ve got to look at that on tape and we’ve got to really work on. It’s something we’ve been working on, catching pivots. It’s something our bigs have got to continue to work on and improve on. That’s where their ceiling’s got to be. We’ve got good passing big men. They can pass the basketball. I just thought we got a little bit sloppy. But a lot had to do with the defensive pressure. They did a really good job.
But, again, like Tony said, they weren’t playing in foul trouble, so they could be aggressive. It was hard for us to be aggressive in the paint or anywhere around the rim because of the foul trouble that we had.
Q. Coach, you mentioned with Pac-12 play coming up, you’ve just got the game against McNeese State, and then your conference schedule starts. How do you evaluate where you are and what you see across the league?
ALFORD: We’re going to have to have that growth because our league is phenomenal. It’s the No. 1 RPI in the country right now. Utah just beat Duke. We’ve had really big wins throughout our league. It’s been one big win after another. It’s great. It makes for a great run here once league play starts. So proud of our league. Proud of the teams we’ve had in our league that have really shown themselves in the nonconference.
I told our team that. If we can get McNeese, we’ll get nine wins through what’s easily the most difficult schedule we’ve had in three years. Last year, we’re going to be sitting at Christmas playing all these teams but have no wins over the top 50. This year we’ll have wins over the top 50. So we’ve improved in that area and that’s a positive. That’s a plus.
Now the trick is can we just with one game over the next 10, 12 days before we start league play, we’ve got to have growth in those 12 days. Obviously we’re going to have Christmas break where guys can get home for a little bit, but there’s going to be eight, nine practices we’re going to have, and we have to show growth during that time to get ready for Pac-12 play because we start on the road. So it’s not easy playing in this kind of league this year and you’re starting on the road. So we’ve got to be primed and ready once we take that trip to Washington.
Q. Coming out of Maui, you had six games against — three of them were against top 20 teams. Sitting there coming out of Maui, did you have a goal in mind, maybe not a win total, but for what you wanted to see in those next six games?
ALFORD: Well, I’m really proud because coming out of Maui, I was excited about what happened against UNLV. I knew it was going to be a tough turnaround, less than 24 hours with a team like Kansas. Kansas won by 50. We had a knockout, drag-out with UNLV. That was going to be a tough game regardless. Just a little disappointed leaving Maui of how we responded to Wake (Forest). I just thought we would respond better to Wake.
So I left disappointed because I just think we weren’t very good defensively at all. So I wasn’t really thinking about the next whatever stretch that was, six games, I guess, of what our record might be. I was just hoping we could get better defensively because I felt we were so bad at that point. We’ve shown growth.
We took a step back tonight, defensively maybe a little bit and offensively, because of our turnovers, but we also know this is the best team, top to bottom, we’ve played. I think they’re right there with the Kansas group.
All that said, to get a win at Gonzaga, to beat the home teams that we beat, where not just Kentucky, but Long Beach (State) and Louisiana-Lafayette, to get those wins at home, we played some pretty good basketball. So I didn’t have a win total in mind, but I’m proud of our guys of how they left Maui and how they’ve improved the last two and a half weeks.
As I told them in the locker room, make me proud again and make sure we get better in two weeks where we’re only playing one game. Now we’ve got a two-week stretch here where we only play one game, so that’s going to be a pivotal time for us to get prepared and ready before we start league play.