Highlights from Thursday’s UCLA-Cal men’s basketball game:
Most college basketball teams aren’t afforded the chance to learn a lesson and win. Especially those led by freshmen.
UCLA is apparently the exception. After playing one of their best halves of the season Thursday night, The Bruins followed with one of their worst. But it wasn’t enough to cost them in the loss column in an 81-71 win over Cal.
The way UCLA raced out to a 20-point lead in the first half against a Cal team that should easily make the NCAA tournament field was far more impressive than the second half was disappointing. There were some tense moments in the final six minutes of the game, but it should be noted that UCLA maintained its 20-point lead until the 5:54 mark of the second half.
Shooting 34 percent in the second half and allowing Cal twice as many field goals as in the first half was concerning. So was allowing Cal to outrebound them by 11 over the final 20 minutes – and giving up 20 rebounds to Cal sophomore Ivan Rabb on the night. UCLA generally looked stagnant in the second half, but the Bruins never needed to flip the switch back on because they were so far ahead late in the game.
It’s human nature to ease off the pedal when TJ Leaf is dunking on Cal’s 7-foot-1 center and Lonzo Ball is draining another deep 3-pointer to end a half. UCLA should leave Thursday’s win more encouraged about they way it can dominate a good team when it’s focused. Coach Steve Alford has plenty of material for the film room, but he also left with a win. Not a bad combination for a UCLA team that keeps finding ways to get better.
Links from our coverage vs Cal:
Cal (10-4) is no slouch on offense either with future first-round pick Ivan Rabb (15.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and freshman point guard Charlie Moore (15.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) leading the way, but the Bears’ defense is coach Cuonzo Martin’s calling card. Cal leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (60.3 ppg), field goal percentage defense (37.5%) and 3-point percentage defense (28.5 %). In fact Cal ranks 11th, 12th and 12th, respectively, in the country in those categories.
UCLA’s largest concern, however, may be Cal’s pace of play. The Bruins adjusted tempo is 12th in the nation, according to kenpom.com. Cal’s is 255th. The two teams other than Oregon and Arizona picked to finish in the Pac-12’s top four are deep enough into the season that those numbers hold weight.
UCLA plays fast, to put it lightly. Cal does not. Whoever dictates the pace will have a decided advantage in a fairly critical game regarding the conference standings.
UCLA’s only loss this season came on the road against an Oregon team that could easily turn out to be one of the best in the country for a second consecutive season. But now the onus is on the No. 4 Bruins to defend their home court against a team capable of competing for a conference title. It’s not exactly an easy place to be for a team led by two freshman. Read more about why in my preview of Cal versus UCLA.
Both players recently returned to practice, but it took Ali longer than expected to recover from surgery on his meniscus July 15. Olesinski suffered a stress reaction in his left foot the week before the season began that lingered long enough to keep him off the practice court until this week.
Ali, an athletic 6-foot-3 shooting guard once a 4-star recruit, would have a hard time even equaling the 11 minutes per game he played as a freshman considering UCLA already employs four accomplished guards. Olesinski, a 6-10 power forward, has four front court players ahead of him in the rotation, including one of the best freshman in the country, TJ Leaf. Continue reading
Would the UCLA basketball team still be undefeated if Isaac Hamilton’s shooting slump didn’t bottom out in Oregon? All the Bruins needed was three more points in the last-second loss to the Ducks Dec. 28 punctuated by Dillon Brooks’ 3-pointer.
Hamilton, the leading scorer 11 games into the season for the highest-scoring offense in the country outside The Citadel, had 2 points in Oregon. That’s one basket over two games – an 89-87 loss to Oregon and a 76-63 win over Oregon State – for the Pac-12’s top returning scorer from a season ago.
UCLA’s shooting guard has made 2 of 23 three-pointers over a five-game span and 1 of his last 16 field goals in the last two games combined.
“It’s a slump,” Hamilton said. “But it’s nothing I can’t bounce back from.” Continue reading