The UCLA basketball team has the talent to beat most teams, but what will take them to the next level is developing a killer instinct. If the Bruins can play with maximum effort for 40 minutes, they can be dangerous.
The UCLA basketball team has talent, there is no doubt about that. But there are a few things they need to improve on if they want to become an elite team.
In nine total games, the Bruins, have won seven, with their two losses coming against better teams… both of which resulted in bad double-digit defeats.
In those nine games, UCLA was outscored in the second half four times.
In six of those total games, the Bruins were on the wrong end of 10 runs that were at minimum 8-0 (the most was a 12-0 run). Of those ten opponent runs, eight of them occurred in the second half of games.
In their last game against Notre Dame, the Bruins had a 31-20 lead going into halftime. In the second half, UCLA was outscored 42-34 which was fueled by Fighting Irish runs of 8 and 12 points. As you might know, the Bruins eventually won that game on a last-second three-pointer from Kris Wilkes.
In that game, UCLA took the lead at the 6:37 mark in the first half and kept it until Notre Dame pulled ahead with 6:50 left in the second. The Bruins did not tie it until Prince Ali nailed two free throws with 2:17 left in the game.
So what is the point of all of these numbers and events? It is to show that the Bruins often let up after halftime. This is not a new phenomenon. Last year, the Bruins had several games in which they let teams (mostly inferior) back in the game, only to have an unnecessary late-game push for the win.
Whether it is to avoid running up the score or a complete break down of coaching/execution, the Bruins have not had the killer instinct that is needed to put teams away. The Bruins did have blowouts against Purdue Fort Wayne and Saint Francis, but those were expected. Allowing teams like Presbyterian to outscore then 46-39 in the second half is unacceptable.
What head coach Steve Alford and his Bruins need to do is produce more blowouts like the one against LMU. Even though the Lions were one of the last remaining undefeated teams at the time, the Bruins were not phased and started asserting their dominance from start and did not let up until the final buzzer.
That is what the Bruins need to do in every single game. This is important for the culture of winning.
UCLA needs to have the mindset that they will dominate every opponent they come across. If it is a cupcake, they need to put the pressure on and run them out of the building. If it is against an elite team, they need to fight, fight, fight to prove that they are worthy of standing toe-to-toe with the top teams in the nation. We saw that they and land a few punches as they did in the first half against North Carolina, now they need to prove that they can finish those games.
There is no doubt that the Bruins have a sportsmanlike mentality, but they need to develop a killer instinct because soft teams do not go far in the Big Dance.