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UCLA Gets Wake-Up Call, Blown Out by Gonzaga 83-63
The Bruins were out of this game from the opening tip.
Well, that was an ass-kicking if I ever saw one.
The UCLA Bruins never got off the mat in this one. Gonzaga was hungry to prove last year’s Final Four game was a fluke, and they certainly held up their end of the bargain in this #1 versus #2 matchup by racing out to a 20-point halftime lead that they never relinquished. The Bruins simply had no answer for the Bulldogs attacking them on the interior and on the outside, and could not get their own shots to drop at a rate they did last April.
I will say from the jump that it is hard to judge what a full-strength UCLA does in this matchup. Once-again, Cody Riley’s absence was felt by denying UCLA any sort of consistent interior attack that could either punish the Bulldogs or stretch them out from distance. Myles Johnson is still getting integrated into the defensive end, but his offensive game is as poor as it was advertised, and he just is not providing the boost that many hoped he would when he transferred in from Rutgers. Similarly, UCLA was reportedly dealing with multiple players having some sort of stomach flu, and it showed in how sluggish the Bruins looked in comparison to the Villanova game a few weeks ago. So it would have been nice to see the Bruins at full strength for this huge non-conference matchup.
But those are excuses for what was ultimately an unacceptable performance which really begins and ends on the defensive end. UCLA could not figure things out defensively, with Gonzaga shooting 56% from the field and getting way too many open looks. Andrew Nembhard clearly outplayed his counterpart Tyger Campbell by burning the Bruins to the tune of 24 points on 9-16 shooting, consistently getting to whatever spot he wanted to on the court. Mustache-enthusiast Drew Timme was relatively quiet but still put up 18 points on 6-12 shooting, and potential #1 draft pick Chet Holmgren had an impressive outing, grabbing 15 points on 6-8 shooting. The Bruins never could find their footing defensively; if anything, one of the lasting images of the night might have been multiple UCLA defenders on the floor after getting their ankles broken by Gonzaga.
Transition defense was the biggest issue for UCLA, and maybe this had something to do with the illness running through the team because Gonzaga just attacked the Bruins relentlessly on this front. The Bulldogs ran all over the Bruins to the tune of 18 fast-break points. Transition defense really looks to be a major source of concern for the Bruins going forward - again, how much does having the slower Myles Johnson on the court impact this - but the best thing I can say is perhaps this exposed and embarrassed the UCLA players enough to improve.
Offensively, it was not very good for the Bruins. UCLA shot 34.8% from the field, and it wasn’t as though Gonzaga was forcing a ton of contested shots. UCLA just could not get their shots to fall, though I will give some credit and say they did a good job converting on 2nd-chance opportunities. Johnny Juzang, who carried the Bruins for much of that Gonzaga game, could not get the same magic going in this one, only scoring 11 points on 5-11 shooting. Jules Bernard was not much better, with only seven points on 3-11 shooting. Jaime Jaquez put up the most points with 19, but it was on a wildly-inefficient 7-22 shooting. And if you want a sign of how bad the UCLA offense was in this one, consider that the Bruins only had seven assists in total, ending a streak of three games where they were above 20.
Here is where I will try and be glass-half-full: the Bruins played “better” in the second half. Whether that was because Gonzaga took its foot off the gas pedal, I can’t say, but the Bruins showed a level of fight that had eluded them throughout the first half and were able to go on a number of small runs.
The one problem? Gonzaga always had an answer, and for now, they are the much better team. It’s time to see if this group can regroup and improve.
Jaime Jaquez led the Bruins with 19 points and six rebounds. He also tied Johnny Juzang for the team lead in assists with two. Andrew Nembhard led Gonzaga with 24 points.
Player of the Game: Andrew Nembhard - Usually I will go with a Bruin even in losses, but no one on UCLA truly played well enough to take this spot. Thus I’m going with Nembhard, who almost won this game single-handedly. UCLA just had no answer for him, and if the Bruins are going to win a rematch, they will need to figure out some answers defensively.
Defense (Doesn’t) Travel - They say to be a great team, you need to have a great defense that can carry you when your offense isn’t falling. That clearly did not happen in this game, as the Bruins could not stop Gonzaga in the slightest. The Bruins have backslid from where they were during the NCAA Tournament; how much of this has to do with trying to integrate Myles Johnson into the defensive scheme is a question that may need to be answered sooner than later.
Welcome back Dickie V - I am not the biggest fan of Dick Vitale as a color commentator, but I will admit to getting a little glassy-eyed during the opening when Vitale got emotional about calling his first game since his cancer treatment began. Vitale is in so many ways one of the voices of college basketball, and his return was a welcome sight in a game that had too few for UCLA fans.
The Bruins will need to regroup in a hurry, as they will stick around in Las Vegas for a matchup with UNLV on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:00 PM PT.