While the official story was Senior night, the real story was the last game of the best player at UCLA in a number of years. And Lonzo made clear that, while this is his last game at Pauley, he has a lot of basketball left this year.
UCLA ended the regular season with the most wins in the program’s history, tying the 2007-08 team with 28. It wasn’t long before their attention turned to the postseason. Lonzo Ball was asked to reflect on his freshman season. He refused.
“The season’s not over,” Ball said. “It’s just now starting.”
I hope he is right. And, to be clear, Ball was not talking about leaving UCLA, as usual he was not talking about himself. Some of his quotes.
on breaking conference freshman assist record
“It’s a credit to my teammates. You can’t get an assist without them catching it and making it.”
on potentially playing last game at Pauley Pavilion
“I just felt for the seniors. They’ve been here for four years, and I’ve only been here one year. The emotion wasn’t the same for me. I’m thankful for all the fans and I’m a Bruin for life.”
on season performance
“I’m happy and my teammates are happy. Coach is happy, too. We tied the school record for wins.”
“If you’re a point guard, you should get your teammates involved before you. That’s just how I’ve been playing my whole life.”
One add on how good Ball is from NBA Scouts again comparing to UW’s Fultz on the number one pick:
But there's no one who looks more fun to play with than Lonzo Ball and I see why some NBA front-office types have fallen in love the UCLA point guard. During an otherwise grimy UCLA win Saturday night against Washington State, the star prospect showed off all the reasons why one scout -- who favors Ball over Fultz -- recently labeled Ball "zesty." . . .
Ball has rolled all season, shooting up the draft charts to his current spot as a probable top-two pick. Maybe he'll steal the No. 1 slot. Fultz's skill set might have been stolen from a 10-year NBA vet, but Ball's court vision would make you consider leaving your wife after you saw it for the first time.
The last add from that article on something that often gets overlooked, Ball’s defense. Ball was played almost half the game as the four, including the key second half run when UCLA pulled away.
"Just look at what he did tonight," said UCLA head coach Steve Alford, who noted that Ball actually defended Washington State's power forward for a large chunk of the second half. "And he probably did the best job on (Josh) Hawkinson. He just makes remarkable plays. ... He only had five rebounds but I bet he tipped another five to somebody else to get a rebound. He just makes everybody else better."
Lonzo was the great one and will be missed. But it was Senior night.
Bryce Alford will culminate a four-year career that placed him fifth on UCLA’s career scoring list. Senior Isaac Hamilton, coach Steve Alford’s first recruit at UCLA, will be lauded for his hefty contributions. . . .
Steve Alford acknowledged the emotions that will be involved sending off not only his son, but two players who have been at UCLA during the entirety of his four-year tenure.
He also made a point of mentioning a third senior, Jerrold Smith, who started as a scout team player for the UCLA women before walking onto the men’s team and eventually earning a scholarship as a senior.
As Steve Alford said on Isaac and Bryce:
Bryce and everything he’s been able to accomplish and not waver. That’s been the thing I’m probably most proud of is, no matter what’s been thrown at him, he’s never wavered from doing what he does best and that’s be a great leader, be a great teammate, do everything he can to help his team. Both he and Isaac. Isaac has been phenomenal. Had to give up a year to come here. Both Isaac and Bryce were really, a couple of our first guys on campus when we took over here. Isaac’s 98 or 99 games and all starts speaks volumes of his consistency and what he’s been able to do in his career. Bryce and Isaac have meant a great deal to our program. Not just what they’ve done on the court, but what they’ve done off the court, how they’ve handled themselves. Tremendous Christian young men that get it and serve others and do what they do very humbly. So very appreciative of what our seniors have done and very appreciative of what this team has done. It’s not easy in this era to go 28-3 and do the things that this team’s done.
Of course, Bryce’s leaving was also emotional:
The father held his son in a momentary embrace, patting him on the shoulder as Bryce dipped his head and let his feelings flow. He continued to march toward the far end of the court before wiping his eyes with his jersey and hugging his teammates.
It was a tearful, but ultimately happy, send-off for the Alfords and the other UCLA seniors who were bidding farewell as the third-ranked Bruins sloughed off a sluggish opening 30 minutes for a 77-68 victory over Washington State.
Bryce and Isaac deserve credit for their four years and certainly earned their senior nights. But the quiet fact remains this is Lonzo Ball’s team.
After being announced earlier in the day as one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award that goes to the nation’s top player, Ball broke Gary Payton’s Pac-12 freshman record for assists in what will almost surely be his final home game before heading to the NBA. Ball has 241 assists on the season.
Thank you Jerrold, Isaac and Bryce!