It is Arizona game day with Bill Walton doing the call at 6 pm tonight. But man, Steve Alford knows how to kill a mood. UCLA had some rough moments (against Kansas and the second half against North Carolina) but he had a very good home win over then #1 Kentucky and his best road win of his UCLA career over then # 20 Gonzaga. It seemed like UCLA basketball had turned a corner. UCLA opened the season of the road with the easiest possible trip on paper against the two worst teams in the PAC 12 and lost both. As the Daily Bruin writes in an article headlined "UCLA men's basketball outhustled, outplayed in Washington weekend":
His team was trailing by eight points to lowly Washington State - a team that was picked to finish dead last in the Pac-12. A month before this moment, Alford's Bruins were relishing an 87-77 win over a team that was then ranked No. 1 in the country: Kentucky.
One month apparently makes a world of a difference in men's college basketball.
UCLA's 85-78 loss to Washington State (9-5, 1-1 Pac-12) marked perhaps a new low point in the Steve Alford era. It was the second loss in a two-game Washington road trip, which included two of the Pac-12's lower-tier teams: Washington (10-4, 2-0) and Washington State. If there was a chance for Alford to finally attain his first Pac-12 road sweep as UCLA's coach, this was probably the best one - at least this year. But instead of a road sweep, the Bruins got swept.
"This is the most discouraged that we've been," Alford said. "We were showing growth, and we had some slippage this week."
From the Daily Bruin this is strong stuff. BruinSportsNet is less surprised and puts it this way:
#UCLA The Bruins have an early season crisis under CSA every year. Don't be surprised to see a miraculous recovery starting Thursday.— Chris Sorrentino (@BruinSportsNet) January 4, 2016
One possible savior is Gygory Goloman, if he could play. GG has finally started to practice, albeit on a limited basis:
UCLA forward Gyorgy Goloman is back at practice this afternoon, but limited. Has not played this season due to a stress fracture in his leg.— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) January 6, 2016
Jack Wang has an interesting discussion of GG on medical redshirting and being a savior:
"If he feels like that's best for him[medical redshirt], as a coach, I always listen to that," Alford said. "It's definitely a player's decision."
The third-year coach also emphasized how much UCLA could benefit from Goloman's presence in the lineup. The 6-foot-11 forward only averaged 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds off the bench as a sophomore, but began shouldering a heavier load in conference play. He played a career-high 28 minutes against USC in the 2015 Pac-12 Tournament, recording six points, seven rebounds and three assists.
"We need him," Alford said. "We need the experience. We need the length up front. He would definitely help us defensively, where we're not very good right now. That's where we've really got to show the most growth. He would help us in that."
I have some issues with this. GG was not exactly a great defender and was a terrible rebounder for his height. That career high mentioned only happen because Looney shattered his face and last year Just SC was just plain awful. If GG needs to be our savior, I am worried.
On the other hand, GG was supposed to start before he got hurt. Maybe he is much improved. However, I am more interested in another article Jack Wang wrote about what I have been calling the team's true X factor on which Wang agrees in an article entitled Can Jonah Bolden jolt UCLA basketball out of recent struggles?:
But of all the Bruins on the current roster, reserve forward Jonah Bolden is perhaps the furthest from his ceiling.
"If his numbers go up in league play," head coach Steve Alford said last week, "I think you'll see our level of play rise as well, because he's so versatile." . . .
While a jump to the pros is difficult to imagine in the near future, Bolden still looms as an X-factor for UCLA (9-6, 0-2). Alford said that the forward's wingspan is even longer than that of former Bruin star Kyle Anderson, who arms and shoulders measured out to nearly 7-foot-3 at the 2014 NBA draft combine. Heading into Thursday's 6 p.m. home tipoff against No. 7 Arizona (13-1, 1-0), his presence will be key against a team that has a 6-foot-6 guard in Allonzo Trier, a five-star recruit who is shooting 52.6 percent from the field.
His own shot remains questionable: Bolden has only hit 18 of 50 attempts, including just one two-point jumper. In spite of that, he's become the most valuable member of UCLA's bench. After averaging less than 18 minutes through his first eight appearances, he has topped 30 in four of his last six.
The whole article is worth a read. As we pointed out Jonah is actually shooting 50% at home. He could have a big game tomorrow night which may or not involving scoring since two of our bigger wins, over UNLV and Gonzaga, were keyed by Bolden's defense.
Maybe Bolden will take a step tonight toward reaching his ceiling. I remember another player with a lot of ability (okay more than Bolden) who had some rough moments his first year (including 9 turnovers on the road against West Virginia) and turned out pretty amazing. That player, Russell Westbrook, will be honored tonight.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK NIGHT: Former UCLA standout and four-time NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook will be recognized Thursday for his significant financial contribution toward the Mo Ostin Basketball Center (currently under construction, targeted for completion in the fall of 2017). The gym's court will be known going forward as Russell Westbrook Court. This Thursday, courtesy of Wescon, all fans in attendance will receive complimentary eyeglass frames, a trademark of Westbrook's at postgame NBA press conferences.
Go Bruins and make Russell proud and help us forget another terrible start. Thank you Russell for your play at UCLA and your great donation!