You know, for as good as that Kentucky win last Saturday was, this one might have been better.
See, that UCLA/Kentucky game featured two talented teams, but that was a UCLA team at (mostly) full strength wanting to prove that it belonged among the elite in the nation. Tonight, UCLA was without Thomas Welsh, ranked #2 in the nation, had a talented opponent take their best shot, and still put up over 100 points and won the game comfortably in the second half.
Simply put, this is what elite teams do: rise to the occasion.
And let’s not undersell Michigan here; the Wolverines absolutely played lights out in the first half. You can talk about poor perimeter defense from the Bruins, and we’ll talk about that in the takeaways, but Michigan shot 12-16 from deep in the first half, to go along with 7-13 from inside the arc for a 65.5% field goal percentage. That’s really good! That 75% from 3 was also a full 40% above their season average.
And after one hell of a first half from Michigan, the game was still tied.
That’s just how good UCLA has been this year, and was in this game. Michigan came into this game averaging 58.2 points allowed per game; the Bruins were at 50 by halftime. And the Bruins, who shot 61.3% from the field in the first half, decided that wasn’t good enough, and went 74.1% in the second half. Michigan threw everything and the kitchen sink at the UCLA offense, and it still wasn’t enough.
But then again, this is what elite teams do, and it’s finally time we admit that this Bruins team truly is one of the elite teams in college basketball this year.
TJ Leaf led the Bruins with 21 points, while 5 Bruins reached double figures in points. Leaf also led the team in minutes (36) and rebounds (8) while Isaac Hamilton led the team in assists with 7.
- Player of the Game: Aaron Holiday - Really, you could have gone with so many people here: TJ Leaf again showed he could handle big minutes, Lonzo Ball showed that the Kentucky game was a fluke as far as his offense is concerned, and Ike Anigbogu had himself a game while playing increased minutes for an injured Thomas Welsh. But it was Aaron Holiday who showed exactly what makes him such a dangerous 6th man. Holiday scored 17 points off 6-7 shooting, including 5-5 from deep, while also playing good defense. But Holiday works so good as a 6th man because his game is so different compared to the starting 5. The starting 5 are very good finesse players, adept at driving and kicking, and while Holiday is also good at this, he’s the guard with the best ability to drive and finish, and that creates a whole new wrinkle for opposing defenses to consider. I’d personally keep Holiday as a 6th man, just because of his ability to carry the offense while the other guards rest, something that really only Lonzo Ball can do.
- Area of concern: defense - I know, and I should add the caveat that UCLA’s defense was much-improved in the second half. The Wolverines only shot 34.5% in the second half, as UCLA adjusted its strategy to stop giving up shots beyond the arc. And I’ll also add the second caveat that UCLA’s defensive strategy in the first half seemed to take into account that Michigan isn’t the greatest 3-point shooting team. But still, allowing your opponent to shoot 65.5% from the field is never good, and the only reason UCLA is able to get away with this is because of their ridiculous offense. Ideally, getting Thomas Welsh and Prince Ali back should help keep the Bruins fresh and push the team defensively, because you have to assume that eventually the Bruins will have a game where they miss some shots.
- Ike Anigbogu has arrived - I could have talked about UCLA again showing their offense is legit against another top defense (seriously, 67.2% on the game against a probable tournament team is ridiculous), but Ike deserves some praise. With Thomas Welsh hut, and GG Goloman in foul trouble basically the entire game, Aginbogu was forced to play some big minutes, and boy did he deliver. The offensive game still needs work, but for a guy who didn’t get to work on his game against cupcakes like the rest of the team, Ike has shown to be a defensive force for a Bruin team that could use a rim protector. The box score gave Aginbogu 4 blocks officially, but I felt the number was closer to 7, to go along wit the shots he affected with his presence. Before the season, no one knew what we were going to get from Aginbogu, especially with the injury keeping him out of early action, but he’s proving himself to be a game-changer so far, and brings a different presence when he’s in the game.
UCLA next plays on Wednesday with a matchup against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30.
Go see this team. Seriously.