Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Huskies played a solid first half with enough offense to support their very strong defense. They went into the break with a lead, but gave it away with a prolonged slump in the second-half, spurred by poor offensive execution. That description could apply to a majority of UW’s conference games this year, and it fit Saturday night’s loss to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.
Mike Hopkins started with Jaden McDaniels on the bench for the third straight game, but he did not have a long leash for his starters. After turnovers in the first minute by Naz Carter and Hameir Wright, Hopkins sent both veterans to the bench for an extended break. Of course, if Hopkins benched every player plagued by the turnover bugaboo, the Dawgs wouldn’t be able to put a tam on the court. McDaniels and Elijah Hardy, who came off the bench early, both added multiple first-half turnovers. Hot outside shooting- especially by RaeQuan Battle- kept the Huskies in the game in spite of their poor offensive execution. Late in the first, McDaniels added a triple of his own to tie the game at 23.
Mick Cronin showed why UCLA hired him. The Bruins were aggressive and well-prepared at both ends of the floor. Chris Smith led the offense by finding the layer between the top and bottom of the zone. They also took advantage of the spread defense with numerous offensive rebounds. At the other end, the Bruins put pressure on whichever Dawg handled the ball to lead to many of the turnovers.
As most teams have done recently, UCLA collapsed on Isaiah Stewart whenever he touched the ball, but Stewart found other ways to contribute. He fought for multiple offensive rebounds before the half, admirably filled the middle of the zone, and finished a give-and-go with a nice touch pass to Jamal Bey for an easy layup. He helped kick-start an 11-0 run that helped put UW up by nine late in the half. During that time, UCLA had a Husky-esque five minute stretch without a point. Cody Riley ended the run, but UW still took a seven-point lead into the break.
As much as Husky fans can be forgiven for skepticism after a good first half, the second half started just as well. Marcus Tsohonis made a three and assisted on a Stewart dunk to extend the lead to twelve. Of course, the customary offensive lull followed over the next several minutes. Seven consecutive misses from the floor allowed UCLA cut into the lead. Carter finally ended the streak of misses once UCLA got within a single possession.
Interestingly, while Carter came back from the early benching and played reasonably well, Wright remained out of the game. After three years of a consistent presence in the rotation, it is surprising that Hopkins chose this moment to take him off the court.
UCLA continued to push the Huskies and the Dawgs continued to find answers. David Singleton brought UCLA within a point with his third three of the game and McDaniels responded with a pull-up jumper. A pair of Cody Riley free throws and a jumper by Smith finally evened things up at 49. Smith stayed hot and knocked down a three that finally gave UCLA the lead at 53-51.
The UCLA run was enabled by more poor backcourt play by UW. They continued to turn the ball over at a high rate, but even when they took care of it, they ran the shot clock down and forced difficult shots. Another Singleton three stretched UCLA’s run to 13-2 and pushed their lead to 58-51.
The game followed a sadly familiar script. The Huskies played well enough in the first half, but the offense fell off a cliff for an extended stretch after halftime. The lack of play-making and ball-handling led to difficult shots and turnovers that allowed an opponent to get easy shots before the defense set up the zone. Hopkins tried changing the personnel and his attitude on the sideline showed his frustration, but the results were eerily the same as what we’ve seen for most of conference play.