Thomas Welsh

Sluggish performance, Norman Powell drop No. 11 Utah out of Pac-12’s top spot

Leave a comment

In the first meeting of the season between No. 11 Utah and UCLA the Bruins played one of their worst games of the season, scoring 15 points in the first half and shooting 28.8% from the field in the 71-39 defeat. With the Runnin’ Utes tied with No. 6 Arizona in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings, a win in Los Angeles would have allowed them to keep pace with the Wildcats.

But UCLA put forth a far better performance in their rematch with Utah, winning 69-59 on the strength of 23 points from senior guard Norman Powell.

After taking a three-point lead into the locker room UCLA opened the second half on a 12-0 run that gave them the working margin they needed to pick up their first win over a ranked opponent this season. Bryce Alford added 14 points and seven assists and fellow guard Isaac Hamilton, who shot 2-for-24 in the three games prior to Thursday, scored 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field.

And while the return of Tony Parker, who missed both games in Oregon last week due to back issues, certainly helped UCLA so did the play of freshman center Thomas Welsh.

Welsh, who averaged 6.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in losses to Oregon State and Oregon, finished with seven points, two rebounds and two assists against Utah, holding his own against the Runnin’ Utes’ front court. Yet while UCLA’s improved play certainly can’t be overlooked, just as problematic for Utah was their own performance on both ends of the floor.

Utah shot 48.9% from the field but was far too reliant on the perimeter shot, as 22 of their 47 field goal attempts were three-pointers. Utah made just seven of those shots, and the settling for perimeter looks (due in part to the matchup zone employed by UCLA with Kevon Looney at the top of it) resulted in the visitors not taking full advantage of the opportunities inside of the arc and also losing the turnover battle.

Utah turned the ball over 14 times, with UCLA converting those mistakes into 18 points, and they also allowed 34 points in the paint. While a UCLA team desperate for a win buckled down, the effort that Utah has played with for most of the season wasn’t present Thursday night and it cost them.

“They wanted it more. There were numerous things we did poorly,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. “You can start with our scheme and not executing. Our personnel match ups and efforts just weren’t there. Some nights you can get away with one of those things but not all three in the same game like tonight.

“We didn’t deserve to win. They were the aggressor. Their zone screwed us up some and we didn’t do enough to put ourselves in a position to win. It’s time for everyone to look at themselves and find ways to improve.”

Brandon Taylor helped keep Utah afloat with 14 points and five assists, with Delon Wright scoring a team-high 15 while also grabbing six rebounds. But Thursday’s defeat can serve as a valuable learning experience for the Runnin’ Utes moving forward. Their role within the conference has changed, as Utah’s gone from a program looking to make its mark within the Pac-12 to a team with hopes of making a run deep into March.

With that comes the transition from “hunter” to “hunted,” a process that can at times be difficult for teams to navigate. Utah’s done a good job of this for most of the season, but they let their effort slip Thursday night and the result was their second conference loss of the season.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 24 UCLA Bruins

1 Comment

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2014-2015 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day. We continue our Top 25 countdown with the No. 24 UCLA Bruins.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

source: Getty Images
Steve Alford, Getty Images

Last Season: 28-9, 12-6 Pac-12 (t-2nd), lost in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Steve Alford

Key Losses: Kyle Anderson (14.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.5 apg), Jordan Adams (17.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 apg), Zach LaVine (9.4 ppg)

Newcomers: Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney, Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman

Projected Lineup

G: Bryce Alford, So.
G: Norman Powell, Sr.
G: Isaac Hamilton, So.
– F: Kevon Looney, Fr.
– C: Tony Parker, Jr.
– Bench: Wanaah Bail, So.; Thomas Welsh, Fr.; Noah Allen, So.; Gyorgy Goloman, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: There certainly isn’t a shortage of talent on UCLA’s roster. It starts with senior guard Norman Powell, one of just two upperclassmen in Steve Alford’s rotation this season. Powell has spent the past two seasons stuck behind NBA wings on the UCLA depth chart: Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, even Kyle Anderson. This will be his season to lead, and while he may not be as good as some of those guys that played in front of him, he doesn’t necessarily need to be.

Isaac Hamilton, a wing, was a top 15 recruit in the Class of 2013 before being forced to sit out last season after UTEP refused to release him from his letter of intent. Kevon Looney is a five-star recruit in the Class of 2014 and should join junior Tony Parker in anchoring UCLA’s big, deep front line. They’ll be joined up front by four-star big man Thomas Welsh as well as sophomore Wanaah Bail, who should finally be healthy this season, although their front line’s versatility took a hit when Jonah Bolden was ruled a partial qualifier that will have to sit out this season.

UCLA lost three first round draft picks with a combined seven seasons of eligibility remaining, yet they may end up having just as much talent on their roster this season. That’s how it should be in Westwood.

source: Getty Images
Norman Powell, Getty Images

But they might disappoint because …: While the Bruins have quite a bit of talent on their roster, there is an awful lot of youth and inexperience on there as well. Powell and Parker, a junior, are the only two upperclassmen that will see significant minutes. Four sophomores will likely end up in the rotation as well, but just one of them — point guard Bryce Alford, Steve’s son — played major minutes a season ago. Hamilton sat out, Bail was injured and wing Noah Allen played in just 11 games. Alford, the coach, is going to have his work cut out for him this season.

The other question mark is Alford, the point guard. He had a promising freshman campaign, averaging 8.0 points and 2.8 assists, but he was more of a sparkplug off the bench than he was a guy counted on to run a team and facilitate an offense full time. He was supposed to battle Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus for the starting role, but Octeus was denied admission into UCLA, meaning that Alford will be sharing ball-handling duties with … off-guard Hamilton? How the sophomore handles the role will be a major determinant in how good the Bruins end up being.

Outlook: Arizona is the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season. There really isn’t even much of an argument to be had there, but what will be interesting to see is how the rest of the conference plays out as there are four or five teams that can lay claim to the title “second best in the Pac-12”. UCLA is one of those teams.

If everything breaks right — Powell becomes an all-league player, Looney and Hamilton live up to their five-star rankings, Alford makes a seamless transition to full-time point guard — than the Bruins are probably closer to being a top 15 team than they are the No. 24 team in the country. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the year, which is why I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Bruins ended up being an NIT team this season.

Like I said earlier, Steve Alford is going to have a lot of work to do this season.

UCLA picks up a commitment from top 60 big man Thomas Welsh

Leave a comment

Steve Alford has put together an impressive trio of big men in his 2014 recruiting class.

With five-star recruit Kevin Looney and Gyorgy Goloman already in the mix, Alford landed a commitment from Thomas Welsh on Tuesday. Welsh is a seven-footer that currently sits at No. 52 in Rivals top 150 rankings.

Welsh is an LA native that received plenty of interest from Pac-12 schools. Here’s our Eric Bossi breaks down his game:

“One of the most drastically improved players in the country. A big man who plays like a big man. He does his scoring in the paint with jump hooks, drop steps and offensive rebounding. Has great hands but lacks upper end athleticism.”