There are a lot of ways to look at UCLA’s loss to Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday, but the easiest may be this: the Bruins played well, and just got beat by a team that made more shots down the stretch.
It needs to be stressed that, for most of this game, the Bruins played well! They were aggressive on offense, forcing the Buckeyes into unenviable defensive positions and setting up for open looks. The defense did a good job of forcing contested shots - the Buckeyes just did a good job of making them. Just looking at the stat sheet, the Bruins out-rebounded the Buckeyes, put up 20 second-chance points compared to just nine for their opponent, and held a 32-24 advantage in points in the paint.
What ultimately did UCLA in was the three-point shooting of Ohio State. Let’s be honest upfront: Mick Cronin’s defensive system is going to give up some open looks from distance in order to protect the paint, with the belief that most college teams are not going to hit those at a good clip to win. Unfortunately, Ohio State was able to make enough of those shots, shooting 8-22 (36.4%) from three-point range, and continually hitting their open looks when presented. That is going to happen at times, and all you can really do is tip your cap to the opponent and move on.
It also should be pointed out that a host of Bruins did not have a good game with the lights shining bright. Chris Smith is going to be the biggest culprit among the fanbase, as the preseason All-Conference player was a non-factor on the offensive side, only scoring six points on 2-8 shooting, with Smith too often getting pushed away from the basket on his drives. Smith was able to stay on the court thanks to his defense, which was the best on the team, but his offense was so poor that he only played 20 minutes total. Tyger Campbell, meanwhile, was equally poor on offense, shooting 1-10 and scoring three points while only putting in five assists. Campbell could have had more assists had other Bruins hit their shots, but the fact that he shot the ball 10 times is pretty indicative of a player who felt he had to hunt for his own shot. Let’s also not leave out Johnny Juzang from this party, as the transfer was hot to start but really struggled to hit shots as the game progressed.
Finally, I’ll get into the refereeing in this game really quick. I’m always loathe to call out refereeing, as I feel it comes off as sour grapes, but it should be noted that the refereeing was not very good in this one. In the first half, UCLA was continually rewarded for being the aggressors, but that flipped in the second half. Ohio State was able to be more physical with the Bruins on defense, and that helped flip the script late.
UCLA heads into Pac-12 play at 5-2, but I don’t think there was a lot to dissuade me from the idea that the Bruins should still be the team to beat in the conference. If the Bruins can start hitting their outside shots with any sort of consistency (something they’ve shown they can do in various games), the rest of the conference will be in trouble.
Cody Riley led the Bruins with 15 points. Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. tied for the team lead with six rebounds, while Tyger Campbell led the team with five assists. Duane Washington Jr. led the Buckeyes with 14 points.
Player of the Game: Cody Riley - Ohio State has a very solid frontcourt, and none of it mattered to Riley. Riley had 15 points and made it look easy, going 7-9 from the field and basically having his way on the block. Riley’s defense is still a work in progress, but he has shown improved effort on that end as well.
Area of concern: three-point defense - As I pointed out, UCLA’s defensive scheme is going to give up three-pointers, so most of the changes here need to come from head coach Mick Cronin. The biggest change may simply be to trust UCLA’s interior defenders on the post and not send help right away, but we’ll see what Cronin comes up with.
A good basketball game - Honestly, even with the Bruins ultimately losing, this was still a really good basketball game. Credit to both teams for putting on an entertaining game.
UCLA has a few days off before heading off to Eugene for a game against Oregon.