Inexperience shows in UCLA's loss to No. 9 Gonzaga
Now winless in three tries against ranked opponents, it's clear that UCLA is lacking one very key element that those other teams all had: Experience.
UCLA's 87-74 loss at the hands of No. 9 Gonzaga Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion showed that the Bruins are still on the ground floor of their rebuilding phase. Not all was lost, as the team showed resolve in the second half, but with No. 1 Kentucky up next on the schedule, the Bruins have a few things to learn from this loss.
"I told the team that nobody likes losing more than I do, but I feel better about tonight's performance than I did on Wednesday, and that's a good thing," said head coach Steve Alford. "It was encouraging. We obviously don't like losing, but I'm more encouraged after seeing our guys fight and some of the things they did in this game more so than after the tape I watched agains (UC) Riverside."
It was easy to see that the Bulldogs had played together before. They anticipated each other's every move and knew exactly where to find one another on the court. UCLA had seen only Gonzaga player before - USC transfer Byron Wesley - but with only three returning starters for the Bruins, the sample size was small. Judging by their 45 combined points and 13 combined rebounds, it seems as though transfers Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) have made seamless transitions.
"Their composure, they've kind of been-there, done-that. We've got a lot of guys going through it for the first time and they've got a lot of guys that have been in these situations," Alford said. "They've been in good, tight, physical games and they know where to go with the basketball, they don't panic, they play with great poise and offensively they're really tough to guard because they have so many guys that can make threes"
And therein lies the problem with UCLA's defense. When the 'Zags weren't slicing up the Bruins' zone they were being pushed outside to the perimeter where they couldn't miss. Gonzaga went 9-for-19 from the arc making six of the nine in the second half.
So focused on trying to create offensively, the Bruins failed to get stops on the other end.
"From an offensive standpoint, they are really good inside-out," Alford said. "They really battle defensively with those experienced guys that understand time and score and the necessity of when a stop really is needed."
What the Bruins can do is take aspects of this game and learn from them going forward. No. 1 Kentucky is next up for UCLA and in a shocking development, the Wildcats don't have an entire roster full of freshmen. They will face another experienced squad with solid bigs. The physicality of Gonzaga was a good test, but UCLA will need a better grade next time.
"We don't have to play perfect, we just have to play better on defense," said forward Kevon Looney. "We can't get behind teams that are this talented."