According to Steve Alford UCLA's 82-68 win over Western Michigan was the most unique of the season:
We had good defensive efficiency that was better than our offensive efficiency for probably the first time this season. I thought we did some really good things. [On Defense] We were pretty consistent both halves. They shot a little better in the second half than the first half. We did a good job of only giving up five 3-pointers. We controlled the backboard a little bit better maybe in the second half but it was probably even. We kept them off the free-throw line so we didn't foul. We forced 18 turnovers and blocked nine shots so I thought we were active with our hands and position-wise we were a little bit better. We as coaches will look at some things going into conference but overall I thought we made great strides defensively as a team.
Reality may be a bit different. UCLA was just plan ugly at times last night. As Ben Bolch writes:
The Bruins wanted to elevate themselves from a good team to a great one.
They weren't even passable for stretches Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion. There were bad passes, missed shot after missed shot and a handful of lengthy lulls in the second half.
Then Western Michigan learned what so many other teams have already painfully absorbed over the last six weeks. Even when UCLA isn't at its best, it's usually capable enough.
Aaron Holiday was once again a key player. The other star last night was Bryce.
Sophomore Aaron Holiday came off the bench to score 16 points and collect seven assists and Bryce Alford scored a team-high 22 points. Both were integral in a 13-3 run inside the last five minutes.
As he did at the end of the first half, Holiday sparked a decisive run, this time with a one-handed dunk with 4:14 to play. A little more than three minutes later, UCLA's lead had ballooned to 18. . . .
Alford made 4 of 11 attempts from beyond the arc, but UCLA finished just 6 of 22, including 1 of 8 on 3-pointers in the second half.
But really it was an off night on offense.
UCLA committed eight of its 15 turnovers in the first 12 minutes and found itself tied at 21 with 7:50 to play in the first half, leaving the second-highest scoring team in the country well off the pace of its 96.9-point average.
That the defense was arguably the difference.
UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton then generated two of his team's three steals over the final 3 minutes 45 seconds, following one with an alley-oop pass to Lonzo Ball for a dunk. The Bruins held on in large part by forcing 18 turnovers and blocking nine shots.
And now UCLA goes on to the games that count even more, the Pac-12. UCLA opens the season with preseason favorite Oregon on the road:
Long gone are the preseason projections of Oregon at the top and Arizona ahead of UCLA in the Pac-12 standings. The Bruins' non-conference run has earned them conference-favorite status. Accordingly, UCLA will have the pressure on it when it travels to Eugene, Ore., a week from today.
However, the Bruins have earned time off to celebrate Christmas and a perfect season opening. As Steve Alford said:
We've had a lot of guys out and this break comes at a really good time. It's been two decades since a team here has gone undefeated in non-conference play so it isn't easy. I'm really proud of our guys to be able to do that. I couldn't ask more from them in the non-conference season, they did a tremendous job.