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Cal Basketball

UCLA Preview: Bruins Have Had Highs and Lows

February 12, 2019
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UCLA's basketball season has been eventful, if not entirely successful. The Bruins (12-12, 5-6 Pac-12) come to Haas Pavillion Wednesday night on a three-game losing streak. The latest defeat was particularly galling because the Bruins led Utah by 22 points only to fall on a last-second three-point shot.  
Cal (5-18, 0-11), of course, has its own troubles, having lost a school record 12 games in a row.
The Bruins entered the season as legitimate conference title contenders, but all has not gone smoothly. The season started to come off the rails early with home losses to lesser lights Belmont and Liberty. Those unacceptable defeats contributed to the firing of coach Steve Alford. His interim replacement Murry Bartow (above) at first looked like a savior. The Bruins opened the Pac-12 schedule with three straight wins including a 95-83 victory over the Bears. 
Just when it looked as if they had their act together, the Bruins dropped three in a row. They ended that string with two straight wins, but then came the current slide and the second-half meltdown Saturday against the Utes. 
One of the many unsettling elements of last week, which included a loss to Colorado, was the apparently deteriorating relationship between Bartow and 7-foot freshman Moses Brown. 
Against Colorado,  the five-star recruit was having one of his better games. In the first 12 minutes of the second half, he almost single-handedly kept UCLA within striking distance of the Buffaloes, who had led by as many as 13. In that stretch, he scored ten points,  grabbed three offensive rebounds and even had two steals. UCLA trailed by just two points and had all the momentum. Then Bartow inexplicably pulled him. He was not tired, nor was he in foul trouble. WIth Brown sitting on the bench, Colorado re-took control.
"Probably a mistake having him out (of the game) for as long as we did," admitted Bartow,  who did not reinsert Brown into the game for more than three minutes.
The benching might have had repercussions beyond just losing that game. For whatever reason Brown was late to a shoot-around prior to the Utah game.  As punishment, Brown did not play until the final seconds. Early on he was not missed as the Bruins cruised to their big lead.  But that gradually disappeared and Parker Van Dyke hit a long three-pointer that went through the net as the final buzzer was sounding on UCLA's 93-92 loss. 
Bartow did not address the Brown situation publicly this week, but it is clear there is an issue. Unaccustomed as they are to a season like this, UCLA followers are now grumbling about Bartow almost as loudly as they were about Alford.  
In the chaos that is the Pac-12 the Bruins, like half a dozen other teams,, are not out of the picture to finish second. They still have the top-shelf talent that caused the preseason optimism.
"They are very talented at all positions," Cal coach Wyking Jones said Tuesday. "They are deep. they bring some guys off the bench that would probably play tons of minutes in other programs in the Pac-12."
Like Cal, the Bruins are young. They have no seniors on the roster, and the ten-man rotation consists of two juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen.
They like to run, and with their height and length -- especially when Brown is on the floor -- they are good at rebounding. Their average of 41.2 rebounds per game is second in the conference.
"They’re really good in transition," Jones said. "Miss or make, they are just trying to score. After you score they’re taking it out of the net and moving up the sideline, trying to get a bucket right away, before you get your defense set.
"You really have to do a job of getting back in transition and building a defense."
 Their personnel is not suited to a static, half-court game and their haste comes with a cost, They are turning the ball over an average of 16.4 times per game in conference play, most of any Pac-12 team. 
Another weakness reared its head against Utah: UCLA is shooting just 62.4 percent from the free throw line. They missed eight free throws in the second half, many of them in the waning moments. In a one-point loss, the significance is obvious.
Still, they know how to score.  "They want the game in the 80s," Jones said.
"Against them, you’ve got to slow it down a little bit. In the first game we scored enough, we had 83 points. But they scored 98. They need that. They are so deep and so talented, for them to feel good their guys have to get their numbers. "
Kris Wilkes, who leads the Bruins and is fifth in the conference in scoring at 17.4 points per game, was held to eight by Colorado. That was the first time all season he did not reach double digits in scoring. He came back with 17 against Utah.
"He can shoot it, he’s a slasher and he can post a little bit. He’s got pretty good size (6-8) for a guard, " Jones said. "He’s a spot-up guy for them, but on the same token he can put it on the floor and create his own shot as well."
Sophomore Jaylen Hands, who serves as the Bruins' de facto point guard leads the Pac-12  in total assists (155) and assists per game (6.5). 
In the first meeting against Cal Jan. 5, the Bruins dominated inside and shot 53.1 percent (34-for-64) for the game. Wilkes had 18 and Brown, who was 7-for-10 had 16 points to go along with nine rebounds.
The Bruins have won four straight and eight of the last 11 against the Bears.  

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UCLA Preview: Bruins Have Had Highs and Lows

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