Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Basketball: A Look At The Bruins' Porous Defense This Season, So Far

UCLA basketball has been an utter disappointment in 2012-13.

In fact, the word “disappointment” is being generous to this squad, one that was regarded as one of the deepest, most talented teams in the nation. The Bruins were dark-horse national championship contenders heading into November, but now are unranked with absolutely no improvement from game-to-game, suggesting that this team could very well struggle to get into the NCAA tournament, the third year in a row in which the Bruins miss out.

Although UCLA’s offense is partly to blame, the primary reason for such an ugly 5-3 start is the Bruins’ porous defense, which has seemingly been burned in every way imaginable.

Indeed, UCLA has a defensive rating of 95.6, which is the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions. This number’s only good enough for 150th in the country, and one that starkly contrasts UCLA’s respectable 107.7 offensive rating which tallies the amount of points scored by an offense per 100 possessions.

This defensive cluster-you-know-what is rooted in serious, long-term issues that are probably not a function of — or are even associated with — the Bruins’ defensive effort.

Primarily, UCLA’s three-point defense has been atrocious (we aren’t allowed to say any four-letter words, as much as we’d like to; this is a “family” site), and that stems from the Bruins’ inability to rotate out to open shooters, especially when playing man defense. In fact, UCLA ranks 180th in the country in opponents’ three-point percentage at 33 percent. Even more troubling, though, is that UCLA is ranked 319th in three-pointers attempted by the opposition, which is not exactly a function of UCLA playing shot-jacking squads. More likely, UCLA is leaving the perimeter open and teams are taking their shots from downtown.

This terrible shooting defense has UCLA’s un-athleticism written all over it; the Bruins don’t have the speed or quickness to rotate to the outside when getting lost due to the oppositions’ ball movement, and they don’t even have the speed to keep up with the opponents’ passing which leaves open the three-point line. Kyle Anderson, who plays as the wingman or power forward on defense, can’t get to the perimeter to put a hand up. Jordan Adams doesn’t have the speed as a 2-guard either, which leaves Shabazz Muhammad and Larry Drew II as the only guards that are able to get out to the three on defense, and even then, Muhammad’s conditioning is off while Drew II doesn’t have elite quickness to get to the perimeter.

Of course, this is why UCLA has had to revert to using a 2-3 zone, which is incredibly flawed but masks a lot of the deficiencies in the defense. As soon as that pops up, though, teams that have a modicum of common sense attack the zone with dribble-penetration, which gets in to the interior and forces defenders to collapse.

And it isn’t as if those teams penetrating can’t take advantage of UCLA on the interior. The Bruins have been outscored 126-120 in the paint in four games (vs. SDSU, Cal Poly, UCI and CSUN; other box scores do not include points in the paint), and penetration has come pretty easy for the opposition. The Wear twins are often outworked down low and neither David nor Travis are at all physical big men. Josh Smith proved to be UCLA’s best defender in the paint — and had the numbers to back it up, with the best defensive rating of any big man on the team — and he’s gone now, leaving a two-Wear line-up for – at a minimum — of 15 minutes per game damn near inevitable, all while Tony Parker is reluctantly given minutes, although is still raw and over-aggressive in his interior defense.

In any case, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for opposing offenses. UCLA can’t seem to rotate to three-point shooters when playing man and they can’t seem to stop penetration effectively when playing zone (which, actually, could lead to open threes anyway).

And this is devastating, because UCLA’s offense has proven to be pretty effective, despite our moaning that the Wears shoot too much or Kyle Anderson isn’t handling the ball enough. Scoring 77 points a game at a 46 percent clip is no joke, but that’s ultimately negated if the defense can’t alleviate the offensive pressure especially when playing halfway decent defensive teams.

It’ll be interesting to see how Ben Howland adjusts — if he does adjust, and if he isn’t fired before season’s end — and which schemes he’ll employ defensively.

Nothing looks promising, though, and if the defense is any indication, we’re in for a long, painful season of UCLA hoops.

Tags: Basketball UCLA Bruins

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