It took until the later stages of the second half, but No. 18 UCLA remained undefeated following a 89-76 win tover UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion.
The game was much closer than the final score, as one of the contenders in the Big West gave the Bruins a fight throughout. The Gauchos put a beatdown on UNLV earlier this year, in a 21-point win inside the Thomas & Mack Center. But UCLA made defensive adjustments in the second half to avoid becoming another upset victim.
The Bruins and Gauchos entered the half, knotted at 40, thanks in large part to the 9-of-12 shooting from behind the arc for UC Santa Barbara. The threes continued to fall in the second half, but not at the same rate. Kyle Boswell had five of the Gauchos’ 13 triples, but didn’t hit any from deep for the final 13 minutes.
UCLA began to create separation by buckling down on the defensive end of the floor, forcing turnovers (16), and making it difficult for the Gauchos to find the same quality looks they got in the first half.
The Bruins and Gauchos were tied at 65 with more than eight minutes to go, but UCLA ended the night on a 24-11 run. Jordan Adams had 22 points. Kyle Anderson went for 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Zach LaVine added 15, whose first half shooting kept UCLA in the game.
Despite UC Santa Barbara’s hot shooting in the first half, the Bruins have too much talent on that roster to let that lead get out of hand. That’s why the Gauchos shot 75 percent from deep in the first half and still entered the break tied. The Bruins are 8-0, not against the toughest competition mind you, so they can get away with a slow defensive start like that. But as the month of December progresses, UCLA can’t afford these lapses.
The Bruins play their first road game Saturday against Missouri, but the big game this month is Dec. 19 against the potent Duke Blue Devils offense.
Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.
According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.
That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.
“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”
As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.
Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.
When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.
Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.
Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.
While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.
“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”
Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.