Tomorrow night UCLA opens the exhibition season against NAIA Masters College Mustangs. Really this game is about UCLA though, more specifically the guards. After weeks of Isaac Hamilton guarding Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday guarding Lonzo Ball and vice-versa they get to play someone else. For Lonzo, this will be his Pauley debut. How will the four of them play together?
On other side for the bigs this won't be much of a competition and will hard to tell much of anything. In two games against Azusa Pacific and Southern Utah, Masters has been out rebounded by 20. Their starting Center has more fouls(8) than rebounds (2). Their leading rebounder is a 6'4" guard who has also shot 11 threes. Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski should have no problems inside. Shoot, Lonzo Ball might get 10 rebounds before he gets in double digits in points or assists.
On other side, Master has scored 86 and 85 points in their first two games. In their first two games, 67 of Masters 135 shots have been threes. Masters was beating Southern Utah 54-49 at half while shooting 10-19 from three. 5'11" Reid Shackleford is 8-22 from three in those first two games. He hit 64 threes last season and four or more in game nine times including seven once.
So this is an NAIA team that can score from the outside, but has no inside game and no defense. In two games they have given up 200 points.
So, yes, UCLA will win tomorrow. It's a lock before the game starts. But what isn't a lock is how this game will work. So back to the guards, let's throw out a few things to watch.
Aaron Holiday will get a long look at point. He will be able to dominate the Mustangs one on one but will he be able to get 5 or more assists? It is time to see Aaron drive and dish like a point guard.
Lonzo will likely have gaudy numbers with a number of steals and assists. But, with Alford playing 85-90% man, will Lonzo stay on his man at the three point line or will he be burned when he sags or does not get his hand up against a three point specialist? Lonzo will be fun on offense tomorrow but how hard will he play on D, especially early when it is still a game.
Jon Gold formally of Inside UCLA now writing for the Arizona Daily Star says in his UCLA season preview:
Stone-cold locks: Bryce Alford will lead the team in shots attempted, and perhaps the league, and perhaps the galaxy.
You have to wonder if Steve Alford and Bryce Alford are feeling the pressure from all the snarky comments in the media and other places. (Including here.) Either way Bryce is probably the guy who needs minutes and shots the least tomorrow night so I bet he shoots some threes but is otherwise very quiet.
But I guess the question that some will ask, is Bryce really done as a point guard? A better question: in a game when offense is not needed from Bryce, will he play D?
The question about Isaac Hamilton is will anyone notice him? Isaac led UCLA in scoring last season and was named the defender of the year, the season before. Tomorrow night, he may very well lead UCLA in scoring but it is a lock the talk will be about Ball, Holiday and even Bryce the next day.
A bonus thing to watch is if UCLA runs a lot how much will TJ Leaf benefit. Just call it a feeling but I think Leaf may very well lead UCLA in scoring tomorrow night.
So let's watch how the guards guard tomorrow night. The effort at that end of the court may be more important indication of how the season will go than anything else.