Defensive struggles cost No. 4 UCLA against No. 1 Florida

Leave a comment

Entering their game against No. 1 Florida, the general feeling was that No. 4 UCLA had the offensive weapons needed to challenge the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed. With an uncommon matchup at the point in the form of Kyle Anderson and guards Jordan Adams and Norman Powell both playing well, the Bruins are a difficult team more many opponents to slow down.

However the more important question was whether or not UCLA would have the tools needed to defend Florida, and the answer in their 79-68 loss was an emphatic “no.”

After failing to shoot 40% from the field in their first two NCAA tournament games Florida made 50% of its shots against UCLA, shooting 21-for-37 inside of the arc. And in the second half Florida shot 59.3% from the field, making 13 of its 19 two-point attempts. On the season UCLA’s opponents made 48.6% of their two-point attempts, but the Bruins were worse against a Florida team that continuously found the open areas as the game progressed.

MORE: Michael Frazier II rebounds from tough opening weekend

Part of that had to do with Michael Frazier II ending his shooting slump, thus providing Florida with the balance needed to enjoy better spacing. But whether it was in zone or man-to-man, UCLA simply could not keep the Gators from finding quality two-point looks. Thanks to their ability to force turnovers UCLA put together solid defensive efficiency numbers this season, but when unable to force those mistakes some of the Bruins’ deficiencies as individual defenders can be exposed.

Florida accounted for 22 assists and 12 turnovers Thursday night, a far cry from the 25 assists and 24 turnovers that Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin combined for against the Bruins last weekend in San Diego. UCLA scored 19 points off of those Gator turnovers, which kept them within striking distance for much of the evening.

But a 10-0 second-half run spearheaded by Scottie Wilbekin, who played a role in eight of those points, provided Billy Donovan’s team with the cushion needed to wrap up a fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance.

UCLA didn’t have its best night offensively, shooting 42.2% from the field and 3-for-18 from beyond the arc, but for them to not score as efficiently as they did a week ago was to be expected given Florida’s defensive ability. With this being the case the Bruins needed to consistently string together stops in the half court, but they were unable to do so.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Leave a comment

After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.