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.

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Pac-12 reprimands UCLA’s Deon Hollins for complaints about refs

The Pac-12 has reprimanded UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins for what it described as “derogatory comments” about the conference’s officiating.

Hollins said on Tuesday that referees had missed numerous holding calls during the Bruins’ 31-27 loss to Washington State this past weekend, and joked about possibly sending officials a gift basket.

“It’s really tough sometimes beating the referees and beating the other team,” he said then. “It’s really tough sometimes. We were just looking at it on film. There were so many missed things. I was appalled.”

That was enough to prompt an official response from the conference.

“All of our student-athletes must adhere to the Pac-12’s Standards of Conduct,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Mr. Hollins remarks were a clear violation of the Pac-12 comprehensive restrictions on public comments on officiating and he is being appropriately reprimanded.”

“There is a great deal of responsibility that comes with being a football student-athlete in the Pac-12 and at UCLA,” Hollins said in a statement. “Unfortunately, yesterday I spoke out of frustration and knew almost immediately afterwards that my comments were inappropriate. I expect more of myself and will not let this happen again.”

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UCLA basketball prepares for 2015 Pac-12 Tournament

UCLA arrives in Las Vegas for one last chance to show that its worthy of a spot in the Big Dance.

The Bruins enter the Pac-12 Tournament likely needing two wins to feel secure heading into Selection Sunday, but that would almost certainly mean knocking off top-seeded Arizona in the semifinals.

“This team has a lot to prove, I think,” said UCLA point guard Bryce Alford. “We know what we’re capable of. I don’t know if the nation knows that yet. We haven’t really done all that much to show what we’re capable of. But we know it as a team. We’ve seen glimpses of it. … I think we can beat just about anybody on any given night. We’ve got to go out there and prove it.”

The competition starts today at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, with a first-round game between USC and Arizona State that will determine who UCLA faces at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Trojans and Sun Devils tip off at 2:30 p.m. today.

“I’d want to play against Arizona State, just because we let one slip away up there,” said senior Norman Powell. “It was a close game. Honestly, whoever wins that game, we’re just going to go at it the same way.”

RELATED:
— Norman Powell reflects on his UCLA career, one that saw him blossom in transitioning from Ben Howland to Steve Alford.
— UCLA heads to Las Vegas still hoping to pad its NCAA Tournament resume.

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New Pac-12 reforms include guaranteed four-year scholarships

The Pac-12 has adopted “sweeping reforms” geared toward improving the welfare of its athletes, the conference announced Monday.

The biggest news is that the league will now guarantee four-year scholarships for all athletes regardless of sport effective in 2015-16 — a change that will dramatically affect how much room for error teams have in each recruiting class. While many players often have their scholarships renewed year to year as a mere formality, a blanket rule covering everyone on the roster makes it trickier for coaches to push out athletes for one reason or another.

According to a CBS Sports report last month, UCLA only gave out three guaranteed multi-year scholarships across all sports in 2013-14.

See the full set of reforms below, per the Pac-12’s press release: Continue reading

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Eddie Vanderdoes will not be punished by Pac-12 for punch against Oregon

After reviewing a clip of Eddie Vanderdoes’ punch against Oregon last Saturday, the Pac-12 has decided not to hand out additional punishment to UCLA’s sophomore defensive lineman.

Vanderdoes received a personal foul penalty during the second quarter of the Bruins’ 42-30 loss for punching left tackle Jake Fisher. The flag gave the Ducks 15 yards and an automatic first down on what what would have been third-and-3 at the UCLA 47-yard line. Oregon scored a touchdown five plays later on Marcus Mariota’s 21-yard screen pass to Thomas Tyner, taking a 15-3 lead.

“I made a stupid decision,” Vanderdoes said. “I regret it. That’s not me. I’ve never done that before to a player in a game.” Continue reading

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