A very good win leads to a lot of praise from different quarters. Let's start with what the opponents newspapers are saying in Three takeaways from Texas A&M's loss: Great tournament for Aggies, A&M frontcourt continues to impress.
The Aggies certainly held the advantage in the post, but UCLA beats out just about any opponent when it comes to guard play. Freshman Lonzo Ball added a fourth point-assist double-double to his impressive season with 16 points and 10 assists.
Senior guard Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins in scoring with 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Bryce Alford's senior leadership proved to be the difference in crunch time. The point guard scored seven points in the final 71 seconds, which included a dagger of a three-pointer to put UCLA up 70-65.
Some of this is wrong but keep in mind Texas A & M plays in the same conference as Kentucky. So yes, UCLA's four guards are better than Kentucky's guards. How good are UCLA four guards? Let's start with the senior citizens:
Bryce Alford's volume-shooting days are over.
Alford buried a clutch 3-pointer with 1:11 to play in the Wooden Legacy championship game, the decisive basket in UCLA's 74-67 win over Texas A&M at Honda Center Sunday night.
Bryce Alford finished with 13 points, but scored UCLA's last seven, part of a game-deciding sequence that included a steal after his 3-pointer and four free throws to ice the victory.
UCLA's other senior guard, Isaac Hamilton, was equally important Sunday night. He scored all 17 of his points in the first half while Ball started 1 for 7 from the field.
Hamilton took just six shots in the second half. Alford took seven shots all game.
Isaac did not score in the second half but he had the defensive play of the game and his man went 0-8 from three in part due to his D. Isaac along with Ball did a lot of good work on the defensive end of the court (Emphasis mine):
Isaac Hamilton, whose 17 points in the first half had the Bruins up by one at the break, blocked a layup attempt by guard Admon Gilder and rebounded the ball. . . . Ball, who made only one of his first seven shots, finished with 16 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, three blocks and was named the tournament most valuable player. Hamilton ended with 17 points and seven rebounds.
But let's talk about the young guys, from Scout not behind a firewall:
Mostly from UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. He had a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists (to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks) but the stat line doesn't come close to representing the impact he had on the game. He was named the Wooden Legacy MVP (47 points a tournament record 28 assists) and it was absolutely deserving, just from how he affected this championship alone. There were a few sequences in this game, one in the first half and then a couple in the second half, where Ball went on a personal run of scoring, passing and playing some defense that was the difference. He's made his biggest impact so far this year by his passing, just uncannily able to find shooters open and set for a shot, but he also made a considerable impact Sunday night in his shooting. Even though a couple of his threes were air balls, he did shoot 4 for 9 from three, and none bigger than the step-back three to give UCLA the lead at 65-63 when it appeared Texas A&M was making its last push to secure the game.
Freshman post T.J. Leaf had a few clutch baskets where he showed advanced touch and poise in pressured situations, one on a jump hook to give UCLA a 62-60 lead, and then just a couple minutes later on a big time bank to make it 67-65. As many have pointed out, if it weren't for Ball, UCLA fans would be lavishing Leaf with praise, and it's a testament to what kind of player he is that he he hasn't shown any signs of selfishness in trying to wrest the limelight from Ball.
Aaron Holiday was typical Aaron Holiday, turning over the ball carelessly, and then going on a tear for a few minutes where he's the dominant player on the floor, scoring off drives and drawing fouls, and getting steals on the defensive end.
This was a good all-around game. The bigs were solid on D and, psst, TJ Leaf, if not for one other guy, might be the best UCLA freshman in years.
Leaf might be just as impressive as Ball, because he is rarely the first option anymore. The freshman from El Cajon picks up enough garbage and gets enough sneaky rebounds to get noticed anyway.
Leaf, Thomas Welsh, GG Goloman and freshman Ike Anigobu did a hard-hat job on A&M's Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, himself a freshman with a big-money future. Williams got 13 points but UCLA held him to eight shots.
"They made some of the shots difficult for them," said Steve Alford. "We outrebounded them (by six). They're not going to be outrebounded very often this season."
Everybody was good at times last night but there was one special player. The last word goes to Texas A & M Coach Billy Kennedy:
"Ball was special," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "He was the difference-maker. To have a guy like that who can make a play for himself and then make a play for someone else, I don't know if UCLA has had that the last couple of years."
Go Bruins! Beat Kentucky Saturday.