Another crucial weakness became prevalent during UCLA basketball’s loss to Arizona State… the inability to be physical.
I hate to describe the UCLA basketball team as “soft”, but it is the harsh truth. In a way, you can understand why given the approach that Steve Alford used. His approach did not require a lot of physicality, but rather relied on tempo and outside shots.
But as we progress through the season, we can see that certain aspects of that offensive style is not working for this Bruin team, resulting in them being perpetually stuck in this one particular game plan.
At one point, Alford had an edge on his opponents with his uptempo, shoot-first style of basketball. The main idea behind it is that you get up and down the court, score quickly, dominate on the boards on the defensive end, repeat. If executed properly, it gives the team a lot of quick points without having to play physical.
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Two seasons ago, we saw how it worked with Lonzo Ball distributing the rock, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton consistently hitting their outside shots, and TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh dominating the glass. That season, UCLA was the top scoring team in the nation, averaging 90.4 points per game which helped led them to a 31-5 record.
Since then, Alford has desperately tried to replicate this style with new players and it has not worked out very well. And with UCLA not having the skills to run this type of offense, it has uncovered other weaknesses, the most glaring being the lack of physicality.
I do have to add that they try to be aggressive on dunks and have the speed advantage when running the fast break, but when they play half-court ball, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of motion. There is not a large number of aggressive cuts, screens, wedges or pick-and-rolls. When they do try and attempt these, either there is a turnover, a bad shot attempt from not being able to clear their man, or the occasional offensive foul.
On defense, the two things that stand out with the lack of physicality are (1) UCLA getting constantly backed down in the paint and (2) the inability to box out. UCLA might be the 7th best defensive rebounding team in the nation with 28.7 per game, but they are one of the worst when it comes to offensive rebounds allowed as they give up 10.0 per game, which is 308th (out of 353) in the nation.
Clearly, this puts them at a disadvantage, but they can work around that. Looking for the extra pass on offense can spread out defenses, allowing lanes to be opened. On defense, the Bruins have to get another big man in the middle and stay between them and the basket. The Bruins have speed, so they should focus on making that part of their repertoire rather than forcing things.
The Bruins may not be physical, but there are ways around that. If UCLA can make these adjustments, then maybe they can salvage the season.