The major UCLA beat writers covered the same theme. With last night’s 89-75 win at Pauley over Stanford, UCLA has more wins than last year. As Ben Bolch of the LA Times wrote:
It was even sweeter considering UCLA (16-1 overall, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) reached a milestone of sorts in front of its third home sellout crowd of the season. The Bruins exceeded their victory total from all of last season with at least 16 games to play, assuming they qualify for the NCAA tournament.
We just have to get back to having good starts to the second half. For the majority of the season we’ve had that and the last four games we haven’t. We have to do a better job coming out of the locker room there’s no question about that.
On the other hand, the first half was fun again:
Against the Stanford Cardinal (8-7, 0-3 Pac-12), Ball’s dialed-in first-half performance along with a suffocating Bruin defense give the Bruins a 48-30 lead heading into halftime. UCLA (15-1, 2-1) held Stanford to just 36.1 percent shooting from the field.
Ball finished the half with 15 points, three assists, two rebounds, three steals and a block. He also energized the sold-out Pauley Pavilion crowd with a couple of highlight plays including a alley-oop jam off the lob from sophomore guard Aaron Holiday.
The Bruins’ zippy ball movement led to 19 made field goals on 15 assists while hitting 57.1 percent of their 3-pointers and 52.8 percent from the field.
While Stanford is not good and lost their best player to injury, the Bruin defense was still good in the first half:
The Cardinal needed more than 10 minutes in the first half to score 10 points and got there thanks in part to a questionable goaltending call. UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu appeared to block Dorian Pickens’ layup while the ball was still rising toward the rim but was called for a violation that gave Stanford the basket.
Also in a big difference from last year, Bryce Alford is scoring much more efficiently. While Ball and Leaf were the stars, Bryce quietly was racking up points on a relatively few shots:
Bryce Alford added 17 points on an efficient night from the field. The senior made 4 of 5 shots from the 3-point line and only took six shots all night.
Of course, the focus was on the other senior, slumping Isaac Hamilton:
UCLA freshman power forward TJ Leaf was also strong across the board with 15 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. Senior guard Isaac Hamilton scored 15 points, an encouraging sign even if he did need 15 shots to get there because it broke his streak of scoring in single digits in three consecutive games.
Steve Alford said of Isaac’s slump:
I’m pleased he got points on the board. He’s a scorer so that’s part I’m very pleased. He’s figuring it out. Guys that go through slumps like that have to just figure it out. He’s coming around and figuring those things out. It’s about trusting your teammates. . . .He is fighting through that and the more he can trust his teammates the better because they love playing with Isaac and they know the importance of Isaac because he is a great player. We fully expect him to do what he has done all year for us.
Speaking of expectations, they are rightly rising for UCLA, as Steve Alford said:
It’s like I told them in the locker room, we are 16-1 and you can see an awful lot of growth ahead of us. We still have some things to work on and get better and that’s a positive. If we were 16-1 and can’t do things any better we can plateau out. I still think the ceiling for this team is very high and that’s exciting.
Keep improving. Go Bruins!