In their highly anticipated debuts in Bruin uniforms at historic Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday night, true freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf both notched double-doubles in UCLA’s exhibition victory over The Master’s University, an NAIA school that won only one of its conference games last year.
The five Bruin starters—Ball, Leaf, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh, and Isaac Hamilton—all finished the game in double digits, with Alford leading all scorers in the game with 22 points, going 4-7 from behind the arc.
Leaf felt like the standout tonight--though, as Don MacLean noted during the broadcast, he won’t be being guarded by 6’3" guys once the season gets started. Still, he led the team in rebounding with 12 boards, and was second in scoring with 19 points, despite only playing 20 minutes of the game, and was a force on the inside: the guy loves a one-handed dunk.
The offense looked best in transition, passing the ball over the heads of overmatched defenders for quick layups and dunks, and when they were passing the ball well, especially in the early part of the game, when they jumped out to a 38-7 lead.
Aaron Holiday was the first off the bench, and the rest of the rotation for today’s game other than garbage time included play from Gyorgy Golomon and Alex Olesinski. It was nice to see Bryce playing off the ball, and hey, he didn't take the most shots (that would’ve been Leaf, in significantly less time) or play the most minutes (Ball and Hamilton tied with 32 minutes, to Bryce's 31).
But there was no indication, even against a team like The Master’s, that the old diseases of the Alford era won’t continue to plague this year’s squad. If the defense started off well enough--the Mustangs didn’t get to 10 points until 6:45 left in the first half--things got sloppy pretty quickly.
There were multiple possessions taken off by Bruin defenders and spots of pretty easy access to the rim. There was laziness and a lack of focus, especially towards the end of the first half and at the beginning of the second half, when the Mustangs were able to score on some easy buckets.
The Bruins opened in man-to-man, but showed a couple patches of zone in the second half. In fact, if you break down a basketball game to a series of four-minute contests played between the TV timeouts, the Bruins actually dropped one, between the under-16 and under-12 in the second half, when the defense was primarily in a zone, outscored during the period 5-9.
The sloppy play didn’t contain itself to one side of the ball, either. The Bruins turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, that’s one more turnover than The Master’s had in the first half, and finished the game with 20 turnovers.
UCLA blew the game open again in the last part of the second half, led mostly by tonight’s standout, Leaf, who scored 14 of his 19 points after the intermission.
If we can gleam much from a contest against a much inferior opponent, it’s that this will be another season of Alford basketball, just with some more talented players. The Bryce favoritism may be less egregious, but the lazy defense and sloppiness on both sides of the ball aren’t going anywhere in 2016-17.
The Bruins will be back in action for their first game of the regular season next Friday night, November 11, against Pacific.