The entire season, UCLA basketball has looked like a top team in college basketball. The Bruins have one of the best offenses in the nation and some of the most talented players. Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are two of the best freshman in the country, already being compared to Bruin greats Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. This year’s UCLA team has brought back excitement to Bruin basketball that’s been gone for a while.
All of that is great, but there is one problem.
UCLA’s defense has been atrocious the whole year. Even in their biggest win, against Kentucky, the Bruins gave up 92 points. Often, it seems like UCLA depends on their offense to win them games while giving almost zero effort on defense. Although they are first in the nation in scoring with 92.5 points per game, that strategy hasn’t always worked.
UCLA has three losses already, all of them coming in conference. In those three games their opponents are scoring an average of 90 points per game. No matter how good your offense is, it is extremely hard to win when the other team has that many points.
Thursday night against the Oregon Ducks is when UCLA finally turned it up on defense, and it’s no surprise that they ended the night with their best win of the year. The Bruins beat Oregon 82-79, avenging their earlier loss to the Ducks and moving to 22-3 on the year.
UCLA especially stepped it up in the second half. The Bruins allowed 48 points in the first half, which is a typical number for opponents to score. In the second half UCLA only let Oregon score 31 points. A major key was Lonzo Ball, who showed that he isn’t just an offensive talent. Coach Alford switched him on to Oregon star Dillon Brooks in the second half. Once Ball started guarding Brooks, it seemed like the entire momentum switched and Oregon couldn’t get anything going at all offensively.
Not only did Lonzo Ball excel on defense, he basically won the game for the Bruins with his clutch offensive plays. The most impressive one was his step-back deep three-pointer to put the Bruins up five points with 32 seconds left in the game. He may have had only one assist, much lower than his average of 7.6 per game, but he made up for it with that play to seal the victory.
Another player that had a big performance was freshman big man Ike Anigbogu. Anigbogu was able to score nine points off the bench, but most importantly he had three key blocks. The Bruins are a different team defensively when he is on the court. Anigbogu is extremely athletic and he will keep improving with each game that UCLA plays.
If the Bruins play the way defensively they did in the second half against Oregon, there may not be a single team that can beat them in the country. March is fast approaching and UCLA seems to be turning on the defensive switch at the perfect time.
The Bruins play the 4-21 Oregon State Beavers this Sunday. It should be a very easy win for UCLA and a good game to keep their momentum going.