Under Interim head coach Murry Bartow, the Bruins have had some success, but they have also been limited by his decisions which have held back the Bruins.
UCLA basketball interim head coach Murry Bartow has taken on more than he expected this season. Last spring, he came to Westwood as an assistant that specialized in defense. It is no secret the Bruins have not prioritized defense inthe last several seasons, so the expectation was that this offensive-minded squad would add another element to their arsenal. Any little bit helps.
That alone is a lot of work to put on an assistant but then he received an abrupt ‘promotion’ just before conference play as he was named interim head coach after Steve Alford was fired on New Year’s Eve.
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At that point, his work loaded increased exponentially and he was given the task of salvaging a season and a program that has been subpar in the last several seasons. Though he has had some success in the 12 games he has coached since he took over, Bartow has also made some Alfordian decisions which have limited this team.
The most glaring problem has been defense, which is the reason he was brought to UCLA. Unfortunately, the results are similar to what we have seen before this season started with only limited success. But it has not been a complete failure.
Bartow has employed a solid full-court press which has proven to slow down their opponents and forced some turnovers. Additionally, in recent games, Bartow has utilized man-to-man defense. It is not suffocating, but it has helped the Bruins to be productive on the defensive end.
The problem is that these added measures on defense are not used as much as they should be. On the most recent Bruin Insider Show, former Bruin and current UCLA broadcaster Tracy Murray gave his take what is happening with the defense.
“You have to mix it up defensively. You can’t be predictable in what you do. And honestly, they looked good in the man-to-man.” Murray continued, “I’m not saying don’t play any zone, I’m saying you got to incorporate man-to-man. You got to incorporate a full court press.”
UCLA’s base defense is a 2-3 zone and the fault in this is that the Bruins are statuesque in their demeanor and often have a hard time rotating. This allows one of two things to occur: (1) opponents find holes in the zone which gives them easy access to drive into the lane or (2) it leaves shooters open in the corner, giving them an ungodly number of uncontested three-point attempts.
Last week against Utah, the Bruins gave up 36 three-point attempts, 14 of which were made. Do you know how many shots the Utes attempted inside the arc? 33. That is right, Utah had more attempts from downtown than inside the line. This was a big factor in the Utes’ 22-point comeback win.
But this is not the only thing Bartow is missing out on. His roster management leaves something to be desired. Now don’t get me wrong, he has been great when it comes to discipline. He has benched starters for tardiness and lack of production, something Alford never did. The problem is, he is not consistent in his punishments/management.
We have seen Chris Smith, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill get the occasional start at power forward which has apparently been based on practice performance, game production, and scoring slumps. Today, he said that he is not in favor of benching Prince Ali for David Singleton, even though Singleton has made more of an impact recently.. Per Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, Bartow is “not considering starting David Singleton over Prince Ali and remains a big fan of Ali. He’s scheduled to meet with Ali today in an effort to help him break out of a 3-game funk. But Bartow said whoever is playing best in games will get the PT.”
The bottom line, Bartow needs to put the five best players on the floor.
In the last three games, Ali has averaged 1.3 points and is 2/13 (15.3%) shooting in that time while Singleton is averaging 7.0 points and is 6/14 (42.8%). If Ali is in a slump, it does not benefit the team to start him, even if the Singleton eventually gets more minutes. UCLA has had trouble starting halves a bit too slow, which has often put them in a hole they have to eventually dig themselves out of. The bottom line, Bartow needs to put the five best players on the floor. No matter what.
Against Utah, Moses Brown was benched for most of the game because he was late to a pregame shootaround. He did not play in that game until the last five seconds of the contest. Not minutes, seconds. It is true that UCLA played very well in that first half without Brown, but when it was apparent that Utah was making a run in the second, Brown should have been a part of that game plan. If Bartow wanted to send a message in regards to discipline, then Brown should have sat the entire game, but bringing him in to try and salvage a game with only five seconds left is not the best way to gameplan.
This season has been a figurative roller coaster. UCLA has good halves and bad halves. They have good games and bad games. Currently, the Bruins are only 6-6 in conference but in this underwhelming Pac-12 season, it is not a surprise that they are only two games out of second place. If they can land the second, third or fourth spot in the standings, they would have a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, giving them a better chance to win the tourney, which at this point, is the only way the Bruins will make it to the NCAA Tournament.
But that is a few weeks away. Right now Bartow and his Bruins need to figure out how to play consistently and get wins, though they have to do it one game at a time. Their next chance is Saturday night at Stanford, a team they beat handily to start Pac-12 play. If Bartow can make the appropriate adjustments, then UCLA will not only handle the Cardinal (and get the road sweep), but they can take care of the rest of the teams on their schedule.