Wow! What a hell of a game!
The Bruins walked into Rupp Arena, and came away with a convincing win over the (soon-to-be former) #1 team in the nation.
There will be analysis after the game, but for now, here’s a place to talk about UCLA silencing the doubters and announcing their arrival on the national stage. The Bruin offense remained fantastic against what had been considered to be one of the best defense in the nation, and UCLA’s defense was strong enough to slow down a potent Wildcat attack.
This is the type of win Bruin fans can rally around. This team is for real.
And now for the recap:
So yeah, that was fun! Watching UCLA thoroughly outplay an opponent has been a common theme early in this season, but to see that continue against an opponent of a caliber like Kentucky is exciting.
Early on, however, the Bruins ran into some problems. After jumping out to an early lead, the Bruins found themselves in a hole as Kentucky was able to go on their only sustained run of the game. Lonzo Ball had his worst half as a Bruin by a considerable margin, turning the ball over and looking like he was pressing against the most athletic team the Bruins had faced all year, and Bruin fans surely had visions of the 2014 game playing in their heads.
Enter Aaron Holiday and Ike Anigbogu.
Aaron Holiday has had maybe the toughest job on the team. The best comparison would be to Jordan Clarkson on the Lakers - a starter-level player asked to provide a spark on the bench. And boy did Holiday provide a spark. Holiday had all 13 of his points in the first half, and steadied the Bruins offensively, allowing the younger players to get their feet back under them and adjust.
As for Ike Anigbogu, he was called on early to provide meaningful minutes for Thomas Welsh, who was in early foul trouble, and Anigbogu compl changed the tenor of the Bruins defense. Kentucky suddenly found itself unable to drive inside thanks to Aginbogu’s presence. Ike doesn't pop off the stat sheet, but his 17 minutes were absolutely crucial for getting UCLA back into the game.
Near the end of the first half, the Bruins came back, and Lonzo Ball’s first points of the half, a three pointer from Australia, gave the Bruins a 49-45 halftime lead they would not relinquish.
The second half showed the Bruins go on a quick 11-2 run to push the lead to 13, and from there the game essentially became a game of call and response. Any time the Wildcats would go on something of a run, the Bruins would immediately respond and push the lead back out. A final surge in the closing minute, keyed by some uncharacteristic FT misses by Bryce Alford, brought the game within 3, but it was too little, too late, and the Bruins walked out of Rip Arena victors of a 97-92 game.
There’s so much to like about this game. The offense looked phenomenal against a strong, athletic defense in Kentucky, shooting 53% from the field and 43% from distance. Isaac Hamilton led 6 Bruins in double-digit scoring with 19 points, showcasing a balanced attack that beat Kentucky inside and out.
More impressive was the strategy Steve Alford employed in this game. Alford recognized that his defense wouldn't hold up if the game was allowed to be a track meet, so the Bruins slowed the game into more of a half-court game. This worked out perfectly, as the Bruins’ efficient offense was able to keep thriving while Kentucky wasn't able to get as many easy transition points, forcing their weaker shooters to try and match UCLA shot for shot.
Any way you look at it, this was a strong outing by the UCLA Bruins, and unlike last year, this team looks to have the makings of one that can go far.
UCLA’s next game is a home matchup with Michigan.