The 2017-18 season has seen a lot of zone defense from Pac-12 teams, and the Bruins have wildly different results against it.
Going into halftime against Oregon State, the UCLA basketball team had only managed to score 26 points against the Beavers. Yet, had no problem putting up 96 points against Washington State and over 100 against Cal. What’s led to the offense’s inconsistency?
“Live by the three, die by the three”
“Live by the three, die by the three” is a cliche used by commentators to describe the perceived up-and-down nature of jump shooting teams. Normally jump shots might be hard for defenses to contest, but they’re also harder shots to make. If you’re having a bad shooting night, you’re going to need to find another way to get buckets.
For the Bruins, this has been especially true coming into PAC-12 play. In wins, UCLA has shot about 47% (an insanely efficient number) from three point range, and in losses the percentage dips down to about 27%.
That’s a pretty staggering difference. Of course, pretty much every team is going to win when they shoot 47% from 3, but the problem for UCLA is that the Bruins seem to need it.
Proliferation of Zone
Coming into this season, the Bruins are facing zone defense from nearly every conference opponent.
More from Go Joe Bruin
- UCLA Football: It’s time for the nation to meet Dante Moore
- UCLA Football: Where are they ranked heading into week 4
- UCLA Football: Position battle breakdown for Utah showdown
- UCLA vs. Utah: Location, time, prediction, and more
- UCLA Football: Highlights from Chip Kelly’s appearance on the Jim Rome Show
For the uninitiated, when a team is playing zone, defenders are responsible for covering a certain space or area or “zone” on the floor, rather than guarding a specific player. In zone, the positioning of the defense makes it difficult for the offense to drive to the basket and also forces the offense to slow down and be more methodical with their approach.
One of the major downsides to playing zone however, is that it is susceptible to outside shooting as defenders are focused on guarding the interior. Consequently, when UCLA shoots the ball well, opposing defenses are largely ineffective at stopping the Bruins.
As mentioned to me on twitter, it’s not realistic to expect a college team to shoot that high of a percentage from beyond the arc, even on open shots. Unfortunately however, UCLA hasn’t shown an ability to generate consistent offense against the zone without making threes.
Demonstrably, many of UCLA’s possessions end up forcing the ball into the teeth of the zone, often leading to turnovers or difficult contested shots like the clip shown below.
The Bruins are largely a young, inexperienced team and zone defense preys upon youth and impatience, forcing teams to work together to try to manipulate the defense into making a mistake. Consequently, UCLA’s ability to consistently defeat zone is largely going to depend on the coaching staff, but it will definitely help if outside shots fall.
The Bruins have an opportunity to rebound and get a win tomorrow against the Oregon Ducks, at 7:15 on ESPN.