When UCLA was dominating the then Pac-10 and reeling off three consecutive Final Four appearances under Ben Howland, it did so largely on the strength of defense. Not that the Bruins’ offense wasn’t strong as well, but for those three years, UCLA ranked in the top five nationally in defensive efficiency (according to KenPom). When the wheels first came off the bus under Howland beginning in 2009-10, the complete inability of UCLA to stop anyone was largely the culprit (although, really, that team was awful on both ends of the court). Since that year, while the team’s defense has certainly improved to respectable levels, they’ve never approached elite on that end of the court. Although, really, for that matter, they’ve not been elite on either end of the court.
This season? It still remains to be seen how this will all shake out as UCLA’s schedule ramps up soon, but at this early point it appears that the Bruins will be one of the better teams in the nation at putting the ball in the basket. They’ve got a bevy of shooters, plenty of athletes, a savvy play-maker in Kyle Anderson, and some serviceable big guys. Thus far, they’ve been ridiculously exciting — and efficient — on the offensive end, but for this team to challenge Arizona for a Pac-12 title, a solid defense needs to be a part of the equation.