UCLA's 67-53 win over McNeese State was ugly, a slog, and something you just have to get through. But it was the end of the nonconference season. As Steve Alford said:
"Our guys need a break and our coaches need a break. This has been a grind and a hard 13 games. We've really had a demanding schedule. We've had to deal with some injuries, but hopefully we're starting to get a little healthy."
Speaking of health, the biggest news may not have been the game, but the status of Prince Ali and GG:
Head coach Steve Alford told reporters after the game that Prince Ali and Gyorgy Goloman could both rejoin the team's bench in time for its Pac-12 opener at Washington on Jan. 1. Ali has missed three games with a bruised knee, and had been averaging 5.8 points as the first guard off the bench for UCLA.
Goloman, who averaged 10.8 minutes as a freshman, has yet to play this season due to a stress fracture in his leg. Alford said the 6-foot-11 forward will be out for another week or two, which could delay his debut until the Bruins host No. 8 Arizona on Jan. 7.
As far as the game itself, the leading scorer was once again Isaac Hamilton:
Hamilton had a game-high 18 points on 9-of-19 shooting, also becoming the first UCLA player to score at least eight field goals in five straight games since Tracy Murray in 1991.
Since a seven-point, eight-turnover outing against UNLV, Hamilton is averaging 18.6 points and 1.2 turnovers per game. On Tuesday, he had no turnovers.
"That was kind of his Achilles heel last year and that affected him a little bit," Alford said. "So he's handling the ball much better. He's moving better. I think guys are finding him more. His activity is just way up."
Hamilton also grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
I like Hamilton's quotes on why he is getting better:
On what has led to his overall improvement
"Just being aggressive, trying to get guys good looks and really trying to focus on the defensive end."
On his improvement since the UNLV game in Maui
"Like I said, I'm just being more aggressive and putting pressure more on the defense. I'm really just trying to go out there and make plays."
I think Steve Alford had it correct. As did Bruinette88 about the slow play of McNeese State. Thomas Welsh had a career high in rebounds which gives him the right (I guess) to be a bit Pollyanna about the game:
On being ready for Pac-12 play...
"I think so; we took a huge step tonight defensively. Like Coach said, the Pac-12 is the number one conference, so I think we're ready."
On the slow tempo of the game...
"We expected that; they're a good three-point shooting team. We tried to pick them up at the NBA three-point line."
The Intern from the Fishwrap puts the game and the nonconference season in context:
The Bruins have played with intensity against teams like Kentucky and Gonzaga. At other times, that focus has lapsed. The nonconference season began with a loss with a squandered lead against a surprisingly talented Monmouth team, and ended with an uncomfortable win against overmatched McNeese State.
I think it was a successful non-conference season even if it ended with an uncomfortable win. Let's see what happens in the PAC 12. One thing is for sure, more consistent intensity is needed and that will determine if the season is successful.