As I sit down to eat my crow, I thought I would share some thoughts. For one of the few times in the last 6 or so years, I was not able to watch the UCLA basketball game live but had to wait until Friday night to watch it. And unlike every other time I have written one of these, I have read nothing else: be it the BN post game, an article by the Intern, shoot even Steve Alford's post game presser.
So the crow I sit to down to eat is not seasoned by the thoughts of other fans or swayed by the pontifications of experts. This is just the thoughts of one fan that is very glad he was not in Vegas for the game (although I don't bet against the Bruins) but is happily and humbly eating his crow.
1. Kentucky Is Overrated
Yes UCLA got lucky that Ulis was hurting and that Lee got hurt. Yes this is not the same Kentucky team as last year.
So What? UCLA dominated the game and Kentucky only led once, 2-0. UCLA was the better team for the whole game.
2. UCLA Played at a "Magical" level
Bull Crap. With one exception all the UCLA players played in a manner that was well within their normal parameters. Yes, Aaron Holiday had a lucky banked three but that same Aaron Holiday earned through determination and hustle 8 rebounds, more than any player on Kentucky. He also had 5 turnovers. He had a good game but it was certainly not a magical or exceptional game.
I would even argue that Isaac Hamilton had a bit of an off-game. He took a few bad shots and was burned often. Really there was only one player who had an outside-the-box and all reasonable expectations game.
That player was Thomas Welsh. To be clear even that outside-the-box great game was only on one side of the court. Thomas shooting 8-11 is not that shocking. He did it on the jumpers that are his specialty. We have seen this before; most recently in our second best win, against UNLV.
However, what was shocking was the best big for EITHER TEAM in the game was Thomas Welsh. Welsh owned the paint. He had only his second career double figure rebound game and HIS CAREER HIGH IN REBOUNDS. He out-MUSCLED Kentucky's bigs! He owned the paint. Even when he did not get the rebound, he kept Kentucky's bigs off the board.
Next to winning the game, the second biggest shock to me was Welsh's dominating the paint on defense. I did not dream of seeing this.
But here is the thing. Other than one player who had arguably a career game on the boards, the rest of the team won by playing within themselves and smart.
3. Steve Alford Out Coached Calipari
UCLA two best wins this season have been because Steve Alford out coached the opposing coach. UNLV's Rice was on his way to tearing UCLA apart and a 1-2-2 or 3-2 zone with Bolden on top changed the game. Against Calipari, Alford similarly came up with a defense for a half that completely flummoxed Kentucky. Jay Bilas kept saying they packed it in and dared Kentucky to shoot outside. But it was more than that. We identified the shooters such as Murray and closed down on him in the first half. More importantly we gave up any transition game and sent everyone to the Boards.
While credit goes to Welsh, Tony Parker, and Jonah Bolden the difference was Bryce Alford who had 5 defensive rebounds and Holiday who had 7. Isaac was often chasing Murray on the perimeter but guards Alford and Holiday made a great effort and it paid off. (Again credit Welsh especially for boxing out so well.)
This was planned. Steve Alford clearly out coached Calipari. Calipari adjusted in the second half but that was only enough to play UCLA even. Alford won the game with his defensive game plan (and Thomas Welsh.)
4. Pauley Matters
UCLA may have had a few calls in their favor but in the second half Calipari was working the refs so well that advantage may have even been the other way. No, the advantage was a pumped and loud crowd. It was great to hear Pauley rocking. Kudos to the students especially who were loud and proud.
With the exception of the Monmouth game, Alford has not had a bad loss at home and now he has a very high quality win. Again, credit to Alford.
Pauley matters. Thanks to the fans who made the place loud. Please come or give up your tickets to someone who does.
5. What does this mean?
Speaking on Monmouth that may not be a terrible loss. Monmouth has beat #17 Notre Dame and seems like a good team. But this win changes everything. UCLA is now back in the running for the tournament. They needed a good out of conference win. (On the other hand it means UCLA should root for Kentucky as the better Kentucky does, the better our RPI. Not sure if I can do that.)
More soberly, Kentucky was the right kind of top team for us to beat. In the darkest gloom going into this game I wrote that I thought we would have a chance to beat Arizona. A defense first team that is not that great on offense. That was our best hope to pull off an upset. Kentucky was that same kind of team. Their great athletes play defense hard but their offense is not on the same level. That is the kind of team for us to "upset" instead of a well-oiled offensive machine like Kansas. To be clear, this was a great win that I did not foresee but in hindsight it makes more sense than beating a Kansas. (Logically this means it will be interesting to see if we struggle more with Oregon than Arizona this year.)
Most importantly, this was not a Lavin style win. Steve Alford had the better coached team. Maybe one kid played at a magical level on one half of the court. The rest played their roles perfectly. In his third year Steve Alford earned a signature win. Kudos to you Steve.
The other difference between last season's loss and this win for UCLA was the bench. Jonah Bolden gives us a better athlete and ball handler (than Welsh and Parker) and a better free throw shooter (than Parker) than one or both starters in front of him. Prince Ali had the moment of the game with his spectacular dunk and one. They both helped the team off the bench. Something that happened only a few times last year and never with two players.
In conclusion, as a UCLA fan I could not be happier beating Coach Calipari's Kentucky. On many levels this is the best regular season win you could ask for. UCLA obtained their revenge in spectacular fashion.
Crow never tasted so good.