Steve Alford’s UCLA Bruins hosted Colorado on Thursday with the winner taking a step forward in the quest to not only determine the Pac-12’s second-best team but also keep pace with an Arizona squad that has some tough road games remaining on its schedule. And thanks to some excellent offensive execution the Bruins were the ones who took that step, as they beat the Buffaloes 92-74 with sophomore Kyle Anderson leading the way.
Anderson is one of the nation’s most versatile players, with his ability to not only score but also rebound and distribute the basketball being one reason why UCLA has been the Pac-12’s most efficient offensive team in conference play. Against Colorado, Anderson accounted for 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on a night that saw the Bruins shoot 56.5% from the field and 11-for-22 from beyond the arc.
Why did UCLA shoot so well? Partly because they shared the ball. 25 of the Bruins’ 35 made field goals were assisted, with Jordan Adams (17 points, seven rebounds) and Norman Powell (ten points) accounting for four assists apiece and David Wear finishing with three assists to supplement the 11 credited to Anderson.
However the biggest difference against Colorado was UCLA’s improved defense in the second half, and that area (along with the consistency of their front court) will determine just how many games this team can win in the NCAA tournament. After shooting 55.2% in the first half, with Askia Booker and Josh Scott getting whatever they wanted offensively, Colorado made just 37.5% of its shots in the second half.
The quality looks Colorado found in the first half weren’t as plentiful in the second, and the combination of that and UCLA playing even better offensively resulted in an 18-point victory for the Bruins.
What also bodes well for UCLA moving forward is the fact that Bryce Alford, who shot 3-for-14 in the three games prior, snapped out of his slump and scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine have been key pieces for UCLA this season due to their ability to provide scoring off the bench. This can help on nights when the front court struggles offensively, although the Wear twins and Tony Parker still need to be factors defensively and on the boards.
So how good can UCLA be? There’s clearly plenty of talent at Steve Alford’s disposal, with his 6-foot-9 floor general leading the way. But for all that talent, UCLA’s fate in March will be determined by their commitment to defense and the consistency of their big men. With David Wear struggling, Travis Wear tallied 13 points and seven rebounds with Parker adding six points and five rebounds.
The offensive skills of UCLA’s perimeter rotation, led by Anderson, will continue to receive the headlines and rightfully so. But it’s the “little things” that result in postseason success, and in the second half of Thursday’s win the Bruins did a better job of addressing those areas.