How Does UCLA Respond After the Kentucky Fiasco?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 23rd, 2014

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point Saturday afternoon, UCLA became a national laughingstock. Maybe it was in the middle somewhere of Kentucky’s 24-0 run to start their made-for-national-TV game in Chicago. Maybe it was when UCLA finally scored a bucket to make it 24-2 almost eight minutes into the game and got the sarcastic “oh, isn’t that nice for them” round of applause. Maybe it was at halftime when Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis got to laugh at the Bruins and their 41-7 deficit. But certainly from halftime on, as the score floated around and into the casual sports fans’ consciousness, the Bruins became a punch line, a sick joke that lasted until that sports cycle ended and Sunday and the NFL took over.

Odds Are Good, This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected (USA Today)

Odds Are Good That This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected. (USA Today)

A lot of times when a team gets killed like UCLA did on Saturday in Chicago, you’ll hear someone say something like: “Just burn the tape, there is nothing you can learn from that game.” Well, screw that. There is plenty UCLA can learn from their disaster in Chicago. In terms of X’s and O’s: throw those out the window. What UCLA can – and needs to – learn from this game is more primal. Toughness, togetherness, competitiveness. Pride. Kansas got knocked down and kicked and left for dead by Kentucky a month ago, but since then, the Jayhawks have toughened up and started to come together and proven themselves a top ten team. The Bruins – fresh off a 39-point loss to Kentucky in which the final score was completely merciful – find themselves at a crossroads. Do they turn this into the rock bottom upon which they bounce back to the surface? Or is this a team ready to go the way of Michigan – a team whose confidence is broken?

And, here’s the point where we roll out the legitimate excuses on behalf of the program. Losing three early-entry first-round NBA picks this offseason. A couple swings-and-misses on eligibility for players this season. A couple youngsters not yet developing. And just a program in transition from Ben Howland to Steve Alford. That’s really the gist of it. UCLA is a program in transition. They have exactly five players on their roster who should be earning any type of minutes at the Pac-12 level. There’s a talented starting five here, and there are some developing pieces who should be nice players in a year or two. But between now and the end of the season, Alford and company have to roll with what they’ve got. A Pac-12 title and a high NCAA Tournament seed and a deep March run: those things are probably out of the question.

But there is enough talent in this starting five that the Bruins should be a thorn in the side of just about any team in the country this side of Lexington. What Alford needs to get out of this team is that toughness that is lacking. Last weekend, they got bullied by a Gonzaga team with a reputation as a finesse team. On Saturday, they came out without confidence and got run out of the building before they even got their legs under them. Maybe the Bruins can sift through the film and find some good points. Kevon Looney and Tony Parker, for instance, at least competed and were ready to challenge the behemoths in the middle of the Kentucky defense, even if that strategy did wind up with numerous shots getting thrown back in their faces. Norman Powell, in a fit of pique, tried to take full responsibility for the UCLA offense at times, leading to some bad threes and some open court turnovers. But at least he went at it. Between now and next weekend when the Bruins travel to Alabama for their next game, they’ll have a lot of soul-searching to do. But if there is any fight in this collection of basketball players, we’ll see it from the tip in that game. If this season is salvageable, UCLA will come out swinging.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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