For 32 minutes of this game, the UCLA Bruins were playing solid basketball. It was not perfect basketball by any means, but they were doing a lot of the small things they needed to do to have a lead. And then the Bruins collapsed; Villanova was able to go on an 11-0 run from the 8:03 mark in the second half and was able to completely flip this game on its head, ultimately losing 65-56.
There are a few things to point out here:
What happened to Dylan Andrews? It looked like Sebastian Mack rolled up on his legs in the second half and Andrews did not return to the game, but his absence clearly affected the Bruins, who had to rely on Mack more to create and played a lot of Jan Vide in a close game. Andrews was by far the most effective Bruin in this game, so his absence was notable late.
What was the thought process of going zone late? Mick Cronin has talked about looking to implement a zone defense with Aday Mara, and there was some success with it early, but late in this game UCLA returned to the zone to some disastrous results. The biggest problems with the zone at the moment are that it led to a lot of easy looks from distance by a Villanova team that is a solid 3-point shooting group, and the personnel on UCLA did not make a ton of sense with a bunch of slower defenders on the court.
What is going on with Lazar Stefanovic? The transfer was highly-touted in the preseason by the coaching staff, but his play in the game did not come close to matching that level of hype. Stefanovic finished with a team-high 14 points but on a wildly-inefficient 5-19 shooting, with Stefanovic missing both shots from distance and right at the rim (the worst miss, in my opinion, being his complete whiff of a layup on a fast-break midway through the second half that could have stopped Nova’s momentum). His defense was similarly frustrating to watch at times, as he was constantly overhelping and leaving his man open beyond the arc. Just not the performance you want from your veteran.
On the flip side, Sebastian Mack had what felt like his first real freshman game of the year, with a lot of out-of-control drives and unfocused defense. He’s going to improve as the season progresses, but this was not a great night to have this kind of performance.
Was that the best the two-big lineup is going to look? This was perhaps the best the lineup has looked all season, with Bona able to hunt defensively while Aday Mara had perhaps his best game of the year (eight points, five rebounds). But this was also a sloppy defensive look and a struggle when it came to offensive spacing. I feel we have to see the end of this lineup sooner than later.
Just repeat: this team is young and learning. This team is young and learning. This team is young and learning.
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The first half showed much promise. Individual played better than we have seen. The zone played right into 'nova's strength. Why did we?
Once again bona fouled out. That does not bode well for us.
But also these are games that we weren't "expected" to win with an inexperienced team
I was at the game, Andrews was on the bench getting theragunned for his left hamstring. Seemed like it was really bothering him
Disappointed in so many ways. The play calling from the bench is one of the many reasons players don’t want to play for mick. His recruiting has been really poor on high tier talent. We can’t really count the foreign players in my opinion because this year is proof that won’t work.
USC for example has no coach, but at least he can get commits from his back yard! This team will get better like they all do, but mick has reached his ceiling with last years team. Jaquez was always coming to ucla regardless of who was coaching… there just aren’t that many Jaime’s interested in ucla anymore
Dylan Andrews was held out for a big chunk of the second half due to cramps, according to post game comments
I think it’s a little too early to say that a group of freshmen aren’t working. It’s not even the conference season yet! Freshmen generally aren’t plug-and-play. We saw how that failed with Dante Moore this year and with guys like Peyton Watson in the past. Even players like Zach Lavine didn’t do well in college and it wasn’t until he had several years of nba coaching that he started meeting his potential.
I do think it’s important to recognize the progress that guys like Aday and Ilane have made in working their way to becoming better players. And with Berke, he’s only played 3 games before going down with an injury, and he didn’t have the benefit of running with the team against the early season cupcakes. I still have faith in Cronin to turn this team around, because this team still looks further along than the team he had in his first year.
Cronin's Cincinatti's teams played a mix of man and zone defenses, but his UCLA teams played almost exclusively man defense because those recent teams had solid man defenders including Clark, Jaime, Bernard, Tyger, and even Juzang made significant improvement as a man defender in his 2 seasons at UCLA. This 2023 team has no-where near the defensive ability of those past teams. It should be no surprise that Cronin put in a zone defense. Personally, I think it was a great move for the simple reason that learning to play zone helps create the skills and behaviors you need to run an effective man defense. And to do it now, while the team is still playing its non-conference schedule makes it the right time to do it. And it's worth mentioning that with all the European players on this team, they should have a lot more familiarity playing zone defense since that's the prevalent defense in Euro basketball.
Cronin should be taking a deep dive into running zone for the next several games to see what benefits he can draw from it. As I said, playing a zone defense does create behaviors the team needs to develop. In man defense, if you fall into the trap of playing up on your man chest to chest, you lose sight of the ball, the passing lanes, screens, and all the developing actions. In a zone, you're playing the ball, you're looking to take away the lanes, looking out for screeners, all while staying in contact with the players coming in your area of responsibility, and you learn how to work with teammates on how to neutralize actions.
Finally when you do have to play a man defense, these learned behaviors help greatly in becoming a great man defender because you don't have to stay glued to your man's chest to play effective defense.
If Cronin can get this team to get his 40 deflections a game, then maybe this team can rise up and become something special. I have no idea how this Bruin team is going to score points, but I do know they can be competitive sooner than later by making defense their #1 priority.
One last point - what the heck is going on with Dylan Andrews? I can understand leaving a game with cramps once, but twice now? I hope the team doctors are monitoring his nutrition and hydration rigorously because if it happens a third time, I'm going to be wondering about his health. It should not happen with today's sports medicine.
I do remember, Chenalex