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Arizona vs. UCLA preview: Q&A with Bruins Nation

Five UCLA writers tell us about their team

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In the middle of a brutal three-game road stretch, the Arizona Wildcats head to Westwood Saturday to face the UCLA Bruins.

To find out what to expect from a UCLA team with a new coach in Murray Bartow, we talked with Markybcool, DCBruins, Joe Piechowski, Mark Schipper, and Dimitri Dorlis of

Check out our Q&A:

How has Murry Bartow been as interim coach? Who is most likely to be the next head coach of UCLA?

Markybcool: I have been one that has not seen much of a change if any since Bartow has taken over. And the first major red flag that I had with him, and I shared it at Bruins Nation, was when he said he wanted the Bruins to either take shots in the paint or clean threes and any shot in between the two that he mentioned is “really not a great shot.” While in essence and analytically, I get what he’s saying, but this team is not built to take threes, so he lost credibility with me right away with that statement.

Bartow led the Bruins in beating two really bad Pac-12 teams, and he has also been a part of three pretty bad efforts against Oregon, Oregon State and Southern California. He’s tinkered with the line-up, there has been a slight improvement with effort, more full-court press, but still a team that just has not looked good in three out of five Pac-12 Conference games.

I can’t even guess who is going to be the next UCLA coach, so nothing from me on that one.

DCBruins: The answer to the second question first—not Murry Bartow. Also not Rick Pitino. We’ll have to wait and see but some good names are out there. Back to the first question. We are generally playing with better energy under Bartow. The defense is better too. But the set offense? Yuk. We have none. It will be a challenge for a good defensive coach like Miller to scheme against . . . Nothing.

Joe Piechowski: Make no mistake. This is still Steve Alford’s team. He just isn’t coaching it. All of the bad habits that developed under Alford are still on display. The defense has gotten better under Bartow, but only in so much that they are actually playing defense now and, like DCBruins said, the energy is better.

As far as who the next coach will be, we’re really more at a stage of who it won’t be. It won’t be Bartow and it won’t be Pitino. Earl Watson’s name has been mentioned a lot, but it shouldn’t be. Earl Watson has achieved, literally, NOTHING as a head coach. He hasn’t done anything to earn the UCLA job except having played at UCLA and history has shown that that doesn’t merit being hired to coach at UCLA. The potential home run hires include Tony Bennett of UVa, Jay Wright of Villanova and Gregg Marshall of Wichita State, but there are more names out there who would be acceptable.

Mark Schipper: He’s been fine but expectations are low. It’s Steve Alford’s team and that’s a bad thing. Watching the last few games, at Oregon State and home to USC, what stood out to me was how far below their potential each individual is playing, which is multiplied, or subtracted I suppose, when they come together. They are less than the sum of their parts. It’s not their fault, though, at least not in the main. These are highly talented high-school players who have not been prepared to compete at this level. They haven’t been taught the skills or made to understand what’s required of them. It is essentially all coaching because that’s where the context and understanding comes from. How would they know how to win at this level? They are young players poorly coached.

On the second part I have no idea. Not yet, at least.

Dimitri Dorlis: He’s been...fine? I’m not sure what really could be expected from him at this point. He wasn’t going to break the bad habits the team had formed under Alford, and there has been an uptick in effort under Bartow, but this is still a flawed roster playing in a flawed system, so all Bartow really needed to do was make sure no one threw a punch at each other. So far, so good, I guess.

As for your second question, none of these cowards are willing to make a guess (because honestly who even knows at this point and I get it) but I will say TONY BENNETT IS COMING TO REAWAKEN THE PROGRAM BABY! Please don’t hold this probably-untrue prediction against me.

How much of a missed opportunity was the recent loss to USC?

Markybcool: I don’t count it as a “missed opportunity” since there was pretty much never an opportunity for the Bruins to win from the tip. USC immediately jumped out to a large lead; UCLA fought back a little, but then got ran out of the building in the second half.

DCBruins: SUC is terrible. We should never lose to a SUC team this bad. UC Berkeley, SUC and WSU are such badly coached teams that no PAC school should lose to them. So yeah we blew the chance for a easy win.

Joe Piechowski: It was a definite missed opportunity. The Pac-12 is wide open this season and every team needs to win every possible game. Unfortunately, after the past two losses, the Bruins are looking more like a 9th place team than a conference champ.

Mark Schipper: Big in terms of their chances at winning a truly down Pac-12. Have to win them all. USC is not a good team, but neither is UCLA. UCLA has better players and really always should beat USC, and that did not happen, emphatically. Losing to a rival always stinks. What was disheartening for me was the same as my answer to the first question: Watching these talented athletes play so far below their potential. I think those things were the biggest losses: The opportunity to get better, to figure out what it takes, to come together as a team, and to have success. They had little success and may have even regressed. It was, I think, the worst defensive performance I’ve ever seen from a UCLA team. I tweeted out at one point, after I had shut it off, that someone would have to tell me if USC dunked on one-hundred percent of their second half possessions, or only eighty-five.

Dimitri Dorlis: I mean, any loss to Southern Cal is bad, so in that regard it was a big missed opportunity to be all “man we fired our coach and still managed to beat you”. But beyond that, nothing UCLA does this season really matters, so in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t much of a missed opportunity.

What is UCLA’s biggest strength? What about biggest weakness?

Markybcool: UCLA’s biggest strength is their depth and length. They have size and it is active size that can disrupt teams and what they want to do. It is also size that works well when they press.

Their biggest weakness cannot be boiled down to one. They lack perimeter shooting and rank 237th in the nation in 3 point shooting percentage. The Bruins lack ball handlers and have more turnovers this year than assists. Lastly, this team has an inability to consistently deal effectively with any team that pressures their offense in an aggressive manner.

DCBruins: Marky has it right in depth. I would gladly trade having two of your starters fouling out for any two of ours. On any given night, the backups may be better for UCLA. As far as weakness, offense. The last two games we rallied late to make the score and stats look better but the offense was awful!

Joe Piechowski: This team is very athletic. That’s what made losing to Liberty so frustrating for Bruin fans and that, ultimately, finally forced Alford’s departure. The bench is deep and the team has very good length. But the offense has been terrible at times. These guys have played selfishly and they don’t protect the basketball.

Mark Schipper: They are a long team, which is almost always good in basketball, and athletic. They have guys who are used to being the best on their teams, though at the moment that might be working against them. The weak point is their organization and structure from a coaching perspective. They don’t know who they are or what they want to do. They don’t have an identity or any one strength they know they can fall back on in tough times. They’re essentially a ship on big seas without a rudder or a captain. That is not likely to end well.

Dimitri Dorlis: The biggest strength on this team is that they still have one of the best rosters in the conference from a pure-talent perspective. In many of their wins, the Bruins have simply out-talented opponents, rather than beaten them with a sound system. That segues into the biggest weakness, which is that this team really lacks a coherent system on either side of the ball. The defense is “better”, but neither side of the ball consistently looks good, which means they can routinely get beaten by teams with lesser talent.

Who is a UCLA player to watch against Arizona?

Markybcool: In Pac-12 play, and I can’t believe I am saying this, Prince Ali has been one of the better Bruins. Ali is averaging 15.0 PPG in Pac-12 play.

DCBruins: Jaylen Hands. If he is passing and playing under control the offense can be okay to good.

Joe Piechowski: My favorite guy to watch has been Moses Brown. He’s young and raw, but he’s a lot of fun to watch when he’s having a good game.

Mark Schipper: I like to watch Prince Ali, because he has a big heart for this game and plays hard. I like to watch Kris Wilkes, because I never know what’s going to happen. Moses Brown is interesting to watch because of the potential and size around the rim. But no one has taken control of the team, there is no go-to guy.

Dimitri Dorlis: The good news for Arizona fans is that Thomas Welsh is no longer here to haunt your dreams. UCLA doesn’t really have a player that can mimic what Welsh did, but I would say that Cody Riley can come closest. He’s a big body that isn’t afraid to bang around down low, and he is a surprisingly good shooter from distance. Really, UCLA is loaded with guys who have potential and could theoretically break out for a big game. It’s whether that actually happens that’s the question.

What’s your score prediction for the game?

Markybcool: I see this as a difficult game for the Bruins and see very few ways of them avoiding the loss. With that being said, these games always seem to bring out the best in UCLA. So let’s hope that’s the case again this weekend.

Joe Piechowski: I don’t know what it is about UCLA and Sean Miller. Miller always seems to have a tough time beating the Bruins. I think UCLA loses this game unless it goes into overtime. The deep bench seems to be keeping the players fresher deep into games resulting in late comebacks. If the Bruins force OT, they win.

Mark Schipper: I truly have no idea.

Dimitri Dorlis: UCLA has the bench and talent to hang with Arizona and even win this game, but I don’t know that I would predict that right now. So I’ll go with an 86-77 Arizona victory, with the Wildcats pulling away late as UCLA’s lack-of-system inevitably betrays them.