After its schedule peaked last weekend with undistinguished Texas A&M and Nebraska teams, do we really know how good No. 11 UCLA is? We’ll have a lot better idea after Saturday’s spike in the Bruins’ slate.
First of all, it’s not out of the question for a win to conceivably vault UCLA to No. 1 in the nation. Aside from who wins, simply watching Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf measure themselves against not one, not two, not three, but four other elite freshmen is a rare opportunity.
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.