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January 23, 2014

UCLA's offense looking to get back on track

After its first Pac-12 road trip, UCLA's octane rating needs a reassessment.

As the opposition has taken the opportunity to examine and slow down their offense on film, the Bruins' high-flying offense has been increasingly stifled by defensive schemes tailor-made to disturb their offensive flow.

UCLA, which averaged 86 points through its first 16 games, put together 69 points in both of its road games this past week. One was a win over Colorado; the other a loss to Utah.

While both games ended with identical scoring totals, there was a significant drop in the Bruins' offensive flow against Utah. The Utes forced them to run a half-court offense, something the Bruins haven't had to do frequently this season.

A change in tempo subsequently rendered UCLA frantic on offense.

"I thought we just got a little bit complacent," head coach Steve Alford said. "You can't be in a hurry. We want to play quick; we want to play up-tempo, but I thought offensively we got in a hurry and because of that, we took more difficult shots than we had been."

The Bruins' run-and-gun offense has begun to catch traction in Westwood, as more scoring and entertaining finishes in the open court have seemed to engage UCLA's fan base.

However, as fans are beginning to take notice, so are opponents.

And they're less inclined to cheer when the Bruins put up 100 points, which they've already done three times this season.

"There's more tape out on us now, and I think teams are taking away our transition a little bit more now so we're settling," fifth-year senior forward Travis Wear said. "We have to work on our half-court game and our half-court execution."

Wear and the returning Bruins have plenty of experience after running a half-court offense under Ben Howland. However, the 6-foot-10 forward notes that Howland's half-court is different from Alford's, so mastering it will be a joint effort for the team.

While UCLA has averaged significantly more points under Alford thus far than it did under Howland in his final season in Westwood (84.4; 2012-13: 74.4), it's not putting up any more shots than it did last season.

In fact, the Bruins are averaging nearly the same amount of shot attempts per game so far this season (60.8; 2012-13: 60.9) and have hardly increased their possessions per game (73.6; 2012-13: 72.3) despite the hype about their purportedly faster offense.

The difference to this point has been the accuracy of the shots they take (50.2%; 2012-13: 45.1%) and their overall offensive efficiency, which has increased considerably this season (1.15; 2012-13: 1.03).

Nonetheless, those improvements from last season haven't been apparent in the Bruins' past two games, in which they shot a collective 41 percent from the field.
"We want to run; we want to play up-tempo, but we've got to run an offense where we get high-quality shots," Alford said. "We just have to work harder at making defenses guard us and get better shots."

He added that he didn't think his team had hit a shooting slump and credited Colorado and Utah's defenses for the shooting discrepancy.

As for how UCLA can improve as it continues in conference play, Alford stressed better judgment and passing to find better shots, especially for leading scorer Jordan Adams.

While he managed to string together 11 points in UCLA's loss to Utah, Adams didn't score in the first half. The sophomore guard's shot has been off for his past four games, during which he's shot 31 percent.

Alford said that his Bruins need to help create better looks for Adams, whom he tagged one of the best players off the basketball he's ever coached.

Even Adams, who has been a steady force for UCLA all season, averaging 17.4 points per game, appeared rushed to the extent of panic as he and the Bruins scrambled to catch Utah after falling down by 10 at the half.

With a few days of practice, which Alford said began with a good practice on Monday, UCLA will have the opportunity to adjust to the defensive tactics that are aimed at thwarting its free-flowing offense.

And on Thursday, as they take on Stanford in Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins have a chance to recapture the delicate balance between quickness and efficiency.


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