Linking UCLA's on-court tempo to its confidence level

Linking UCLA's on-court tempo to its confidence level
UCLA Coach Steve Alford says the Bruins lost confidence and the tempo of their offense after their lost to Kentucky in December. (Harry How / Getty Images)

Almost a month and a half has passed since UCLA was embarrassed in a blowout loss to Kentucky, yet the effects linger.

Along with the game, Coach Steve Alford says, the Bruins lost confidence and the tempo of their offense.


Last season, UCLA scored well in transition, and against weaker nonconference opposition at the beginning of this season UCLA ran and put up big numbers. But the Kentucky rout — and three more losses that followed — created trust issues that have reverberated through the Pac-12 Conference season.

"We've just been slowed," Alford said. "We're playing one way, and when you get punched in the face by Kentucky ... from a player's standpoint, that hits you hard."

Last season, UCLA's tempo ranked second in Pac-12 play, according to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy. This year? Tenth. The Bruins' possessions against conference opponents have slowed by about 16% compared to last season.

"Last year we had more ball movement," guard Norman Powell said. "We were able to get up and down."

Alford said the cause and the solution have to do with trust. When UCLA's young players lost confidence, they stopped moving the ball to teammates. Often, the ball would get stuck on one sideline. Easy baskets were harder to come by.

When UCLA has won games, it has passed effectively and worked the ball inside to Tony Parker.

"We want to play fast," Alford said. "We want to play up-tempo. It's our style. We like playing that way."

Taking responsibility

In a season in which USC is finding new lows, Coach Andy Enfield has taken steps to shield his players from more negativity.

After the Trojans' 67-39 loss to Utah on Sunday, Enfield juggled two goals: expressing confidence in his vision for the program and shouldering responsibility for USC's rapidly accumulating loss total.

"I take the blame," Enfield said of his team's 12-point first half against the Utes.

"Any loss like this is my fault," he added during the postgame news conference.

Enfield didn't make any players available to the media after Sunday's game. At one point in his news conference, he asked reporters not to confuse his frustration toward USC's record with frustration toward his players.

Of point guard Jordan McLaughlin's shooting woes, he said, "I don't want anybody to think that we've lost any confidence."


Of benching the starters for most of the second half, he said he was proud of the Trojans' reserves on the bench.

Of the team's inconsistencies, he said the coaching had to improve.

"I love this team," Enfield said. "We have a very bright future. I back these kids 100%."


When: 6.

Where: Maples Pavilion, Stanford.

On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 570.

Records: UCLA 13-9 and 5-4 in the Pac-12, Stanford 15-6, 6-3.

Update: The Bruins will be looking for a big boost to their NCAA tournament resume in the second half of the Pac-12 season, which starts against the Cardinal. UCLA has just one win against the RPI top-50: over Stanford in January. The Bruins haven't won a game outside of Los Angeles all season. The Cardinal is third in the Pac-12 standings and has just one home loss, 89-82, to Arizona.


When: 8.

Where: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley.

On the air: TV: Fox Sports 1; Radio: 710.

Records: USC 9-12, 1-8 in the Pac-12 Conference; California 13-9, 3-6.

Update: The Trojans hit a new low on Sunday against Utah when they scored just 12 points in the first half. USC Coach Andy Enfield said he had no explanation for the performance that dropped the Trojans to last place in the conference by two games. The next closest team? That would be the Bears, against whom USC earned its only Pac-12 win of the season in January. California has just three conference wins but has won two in a row, over Washington and Washington State.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand