Yes, the above cartoon is pretty harsh. But is it wrong? After eight games, it’s only become more difficult to ascertain just where UCLA men’s basketball is headed this season. On one hand, the Bruins just knocked off No. 1 Kentucky, an 87-77 win that stands as the most impressive of Steve Alford’s short tenure. On the other, they’re only three weeks removed from a season-opening loss to Monmouth.
1. The Bruins are back on track to make the NCAA Tournament. Losing to Monmouth to open the season was the type of game that would have pushed a team to the wrong side of the bubble. Upsetting the top-ranked Wildcats on national TV undoes all of that damage. UCLA still needs to take care of business the rest of the way, of course: Beating every nonconference opponent left other than Gonzaga or North Carolina would help, as would matching last year’s 11-7 record in conference. There’s still a chance that beat Kentucky was an anomaly, but Thursday night showed that there’s plenty of talent to work with on this roster. Just as importantly, they’re no longer fighting an uphill battle in terms of national perception.
2. Steve Alford deserves credit for the game plan. Kentucky had looked as impressive as any team in college basketball, having gone 635 days since losing its last regular-season game. Strip away that context, though, and no one would have picked the Wildcats as the superior team at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA went to an effective man defense that kept UK out of the paint and forced them to settle their jump shots — the team’s most glaring weakness. Continue reading →
UCLA point guard Bryce Alford said last season’s 83-44 loss to Kentucky was a “special case,” insisting that the Bruins aren’t about to lay another egg like that in Thursday’s rematch. The top-ranked Wildcats tip off at Pauley Pavilion at 6 p.m. as 5.5-point favorites, a surprisingly low spread given that UCLA has already lost three games.
UCLA men’s basketball released its upcoming nonconference schedule today, and the spot to mark in your calendar is Dec. 3.
That’s when the Bruins will host Kentucky, facing a team that dismantled them in an 83-44 blowout last December in Chicago — one that the Wildcats opened with a 24-0 run. UK will almost certainly enter Pauley Pavilion as the favorite, but this is also a team that lost seven players from its Final Four squad.
As has become customary under head coach Steve Alford — who is heading into his third season — UCLA has a loaded nonconference slate that also includes a visit to Gonzaga on Dec. 12, and a game against North Carolina on Dec. 19 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Both teams beat the Bruins by double-digits last winter. The Bulldogs also ended UCLA’s season with a 74-62 win in the Sweet 16.
“I’ve maintained all along that we want to upgrade our program’s schedule in hopes of playing tough and exciting marquee games,” Alford said in a statement, “and I’d say we’ve moved even further in that direction this year. … This non-conference schedule figures to be one of the strongest in the nation, and I know our players can’t wait to take on this challenge.”
The Bruins could also play Kansas and Indiana in November’s Maui Invitational, a tournament that also includes St. John’s, UNLV and Wake Forest.
UCLA’s first competition will come in an exhibition game against Cal State Los Angeles on Oct. 30, and it will officially open its season against Monmouth on Nov. 13.