Can UCLA basketball’s defense keep up with faster teams?

The UCLA men's basketball team has struggled on defense this season, particularly against up-tempo teams. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

The UCLA men’s basketball team has struggled on defense this season, particularly against up-tempo teams. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

After a comfortable win at Oregon State on Wednesday, Steve Alford said that UCLA finally “guarded the way that we wanted to guard.” Can the Bruins keep it up?

Both Alford and his players have explained the team’s defensive struggles with terms like “energy” and “demeanor” — suggesting that the problem has less to do with matchups than willpower and focus. But there’s another factor that could help clarify UCLA’s inconsistency: pace of play.

Against teams that rank top-100 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical rankings, the Bruins have a 2-6 record. Against teams below that, they are 10-1, with the lone loss coming to Washington State.

As for the Beavers? They were the slowest opponent UCLA has faced this season, clocking in at No. 263 with 67.5 possessions per 40 minutes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bruins have an average scoring margin of -5.5 against teams that average at least 71.0 possessions per 40. When it faces teams that average less than 70.0 possessions, UCLA is cruising along at +7.6 — a figure that doesn’t even factor in their 32-point win over CSUN.

This obviously isn’t a perfect measure, but the data at least echoes how the Bruins’ transition defense has looked according to the eye test. It also helps explain how the team convincingly upset Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Arizona.

Fortunately for UCLA, most of the Pac-12 isn’t running at a breakneck pace. Washington is far and away the leader, ranking fifth in the NCAA at 78.0 possessions. Next in the league is USC, which ranks No. 45 with 72.8.

No one else is even in the top 100. Oregon and Colorado both average 70.3 possessions, just 0.1 behind the Bruins, while Stanford rounds out the league down at 67.1.

  • JustOwns

    Tried hard to watch UCLA/Oregon game today, but UCLA is unwatchable. I think UCLA would be better, based on their defense, as a four on five team leaving Parker where he belongs – firmly glued to the end of the bench.

    I understand nobody is perfect, conversely nobody should be totally useless. Yet Parker defies logic. I don’t understand Alford’s faith in Parker.

    • gotroy22

      The big test is tomorrow when USC will see if they are another January Wonder or a legit team that beats the bottom feeders on the road.

      • JustOwns

        Regardless of what happens up there, KU is a better BB team than UCLA. I can’t believe how bad UCLA BB is.

    • 88 Straight

      We are already 3 on 5. Bryce can’t guard a statue.

  • gotroy22

    The answer is: Nope.

    • Gordo Albondigas

      What do you mean by “Nope?” Nope that your LA Daily News employers care that you are trolling their website and trying to increase traffic? Don’t you think that is very unprofessional?

  • BruinBob

    It’s time to bench Tony Parker:
    * plays the below the rim
    * slow feet
    * can’t jump
    * can’t run
    * bricks for hands
    * no shooting touch
    * no concept of defense
    * poor basketball IQ
    * lazy
    * more passionate about fashion and hair than basketball

    He’s nothing but a waste of a scholarship. Can’t wait for him to be gone next year.

    • gotroy22

      Remember when he was going to be a one and doner?

      • JustOwns

        I think that was an”Item”/Helen evaluation.

        Remember 22, it was Helen who predicted the demise of the 2015 – 16, S.A. Spurs.

      • 88 Straight

        Plenty of Bruins wish he had been.

  • jim

    Somebody should teach Noah Allen how to shoot. The guy is a great athlete and a fantastic defensive player. He’s quick and can leap. But on offense he’s limited to setting screens and passing. Someone should teach him to be an offensive player. He definitely has the natural talent. It seems like they are wasting his talent.