What Went Right For UCLA That Has Gone Wrong So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 4th, 2015

24-0. 41-7. 61-20. 83-44. No, this is not my high school locker combination. Rather, a handful of snapshots of scores during the Kentucky/UCLA game in Chicago about 50 weeks ago. Those scores and that domination will never go away. But on Thursday night, the Bruins began to earn back some of the capital they tossed away that Saturday afternoon nearly a year ago. Along the way, they also began to bounce back from their early-season underachieving ways, putting losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest behind them for the time being. Below, here are four, er, five things that went right for UCLA on Thursday night — things that haven’t been going right in recent days, weeks, months and years.

UCLA Fans: It's OK to Be A Fan (UCLA Athletics)

UCLA Fans: It’s OK to Be A Fan (UCLA Athletics)

  1. Fan Support. It’s a funny thing that fans can overreact to one way or the other. Great fan support and a raucous crowd in the arena and fans walk out thinking they may as well be part of the team. Empty arena as quiet as a library and fans walk out blaming the team for playing without passion and energy. Two sides of the same coin. For the better part of the past half-decade, Kentucky has been the exemplar of the first scenario. Sure, they’ve had great talent, but you’re can’t tell me that playing to a packed house at home every night hasn’t contributed to a win or two here and there that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. UCLA, on the other hand, has been exhibit A for option B. Talented players playing a fun brand of basketball in a great college arena in front of sparse crowds, leading to head scratching losses that an overly critical fan base blames on the coach, the administration and the players, rather than their collective self. Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion showed what a boost an actually supportive crowd can provide to a group of players in need of some confidence. Sure, no one is going to mistake Pauley last night for the great atmospheres in college basketball. Empty seats in the lower bowl were masked by yellow giveaway t-shirt deep into the first half. But, there was a visible and vocal crowd, something that has become the exception rather than the rule. Extra special mention is reserved for the Bruin student section. And, for that one night, the entirety of Bruin fans deserve at least some credit. The truth is, UCLA fans, UCLA students, you guys had some small part in this win tonight. Flip that coin the other way and recognize the other truth: you guys had some small part in that Monmouth loss as well. You can’t expect to be a great program on the level of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, etc., when you’re not providing fan support on the level of those great programs. One little tip: it’s okay to get into your seats early prior to the game (traffic on the 405 is not a legit excuse) and return from halftime (Komodo food truck, also not a legit excuse) in time second-half action.
  2. UCLA Bigs. For three-plus years, at every turn, in every big game, Tony Parker couldn’t seem to get out of his own way. First-round game in Maui this year, Parker comes into the game averaging something like 16 and 16. Those numbers plummet immediately when Parker gets two fouls in the first handful of minutes and winds up with 11 minutes, two points, three boards and four fouls. In the Pac-12 tourney semi against Arizona last year; Road trip to Arizona last year; Battle for Atlantis opener last year; countless other games; all similar stories in similar settings. Last night? You look at the box score and there is nothing phenomenal there: 11 points on five FGAs, three boards, a couple assists. Except this: Tony Parker, the Bruins lone big physical bruiser played 26 minutes against great competition and provided a presence in the middle on both ends of the court that this team desperately needs. When Parker is on the pine watching due to misguided fouls, everything about this UCLA team is worse. First off, you’re giving away fouls towards extra free throw attempts. Second, you’re losing a physical presence on defense. Third, you’re limiting your available offensive weapons. And more. He needs to be on the court as much as possible. The other UCLA big of importance is sophomore Thomas Welsh, a nearly automatic mid-range jump shooter, especially from the baseline, who also provides great size and effort. Between Parker and Welsh, the Bruins have a one-two punch of size and skill that few can match. More on Welsh below.

    Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

    Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

  3. Actual Defense. Much of UCLA’s first seven games were characterized by defensive breakdowns, both on the perimeter and inside. In the paint, UCLA was terrific tonight. Welsh, in particular, was notorious early in the year for failing to maintain verticality when defending, thus making himself less long on defense and opening himself up to potential fouls. Tonight he, and Parker and Jonah Bolden, all stuck to vertical and made the Wildcats shoot over them. There were times these guys played great defense without even leaving their feet. On the perimeter, freshman Aaron Holiday was also terrific defensively, especially in his commitment to solid fundamental defense. He’s been known to cheat early in the season in search of cheap steals. But against Kentucky, he stuck to the gameplan, made the Wildcats shoot over the UCLA perimeter defense and followed up shots in order to secure defensive boards. Likewise, vets like Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, neither of whom could be considered great defenders, were solid and well-coached.
  4. Some Luck. Hey, let’s cut to the chase: Kentucky is a more talented team than UCLA. There are five or six Wildcats (at a minimum) who are going to log NBA minutes at some point in the near future. At this point, I still can’t say for sure which of these Bruins have big-time professional futures. But combine (1) some crowd support, with (2) a Kentucky team maybe a bit too self-satisfied after some early season success, with (3) a UCLA team a bit angry after last year’s embarrassment, a Maui disappointment and some ensuing rough practices, with (4) a handful of fortunate, albeit hustle-induced, bounces… And you get an upset.
  5. Oh, and Prince Ali.

What does it all mean? Not much, at least right now. After all, it is December, with much more hoop to be hooped. But the Bruins have a signature non-conference victory, the loss to Monmouth is more or less erased and there’s a boatload of confidence overflowing in Westwood where there wasn’t just a week ago. All of this could be flushed away in another sub-par West L.A. fadeaway performance. Or this could be the building block upon which a team with major contributions from underclassmen begins to build a new identity. Gonzaga looms in a week, North Carolina the following week. Will those UCLA performances reaffirm what happened against Kentucky, or shine a light on Thursday night as a one-off impostor?

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *