UCLA Basketball: 5 things to watch for during Pac-12 play

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 22: Moses Brown #1 of the UCLA Bruins dunks the ball in the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center on December 22, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 22: Moses Brown #1 of the UCLA Bruins dunks the ball in the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center on December 22, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Here are five things to watch for as the UCLA basketball team starts the Pac-12 portion of the schedule tonight, especially after the firing of Steve Alford.

What a time for transition. It is a new year, Pac-12 conference play begins, and the UCLA basketball team starts life after Steve Alford. It’s almost poetic.

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With all of this in mind, it is going to be interesting to see what the Bruins do post-Alford. Here are five things to watch for…

1. Who will step up?

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Hate is a strong word, but it was one that was used to describe some of the UCLA basketball player’s feelings toward Alford. If this is the case, will these Bruins have a rebirth heading into Pac-12 play and show what they are made of? In addition to that, will one (or two or three) players step up and take the reins of a team that just lost their head coach? If so, my money is on Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes to lead these Bruins into the rest of the season.

2. Will they go faster?

UCLA tried to play uptempo under Alford, but it was just not working out this year. Could it work under interim head coach Murry Bartow? On Wednesday, he alluded to that fact when he joined the Petros and Money Show on AM 570 in Los Angeles. If the Bruins do indeed pick up the pace, hopefully, they take less outside shots and focus more on getting the ball in the paint.

3. Will the defense improve? Even a little?

Bartow was brought in to try and improve the defense. Now that the Bruins are all his, will he make wholesale changes, minor tweaks or will he just go with what he’s got? Hopefully, there is a little more work with this part of UCLA’s game.

4. Will there be more cohesion or more “me ball”?

One of the problems with Alford’s offense is that players tended to play for themselves. They had stretches where they worked together, but for the most part, it seemed as though the Bruins were out for themselves. One thing Alford failed to do was punish/bench players when they made (or repeated) simple mistakes. Bartow needs to hold these players responsible which will hopefully bring about a more unselfish style of play. Here’s hoping.

5. Can Murry Bartow inspire these guys?

And lastly, with everything that has gone on in the last several days, can Bartow get his players to focus and play the type of basketball that most Bruins’ fans were hoping they can play? This is a very talented team and if Bartow can get in their heads (in a good way) and have them find that fire inside, then we are in for a treat.

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UCLA has shown that they are capable of doing a lot of damage and if things change for the better, the Bruins could be on a path to Pac-12 success.