Credit where credit is due: Aaron Holiday made writing this postgame report way easier than it could have been.
Holiday had a series of career highs tonight, with his 33 points on 11 made field goals, along with 5 3-point FGs and 10 rebounds all being career highs for the junior guard. Behind this impressive double-double performance, the UCLA Bruins were able to pull away and defeat the Washington State Cougars 96-82 to open PAC-12 play.
Really, Holiday carried the Bruins through the first half, as the guard had 23 points on 9-13 shooting, while the rest of the Bruins were 5-24 (an abysmal 20.8%) from the field. The good news is the Bruins at least made most of their free throws in the half, but that shooting percentage is never going to cut it against a better opponent.
Luckily, the Bruins picked it up in the second half. The Bruins went 15-28 (53.6%) from the field in the second half, led by Jaylen Hands going unconscious for a stretch, ending up with 16 points in the half, including 3-3 from distance. In fact, had Holiday not had a career night, this postgame is probably focusing more on the great play of Hands in this game. His 4 assists tied for the team lead, and he only had one turnover on the game. In fact, this was one of the cleanest games for the Bruins on the season, as they only had 7 turnovers total, with 3 of them by Chris Smith in a bad stretch of play in the first half.
There are, of course, both positives and negatives in this game. Besides Holiday and Hands, you have to like the play of Thomas Welsh and GG Goloman, who are working as a strong one-two punch inside, with GG even hitting a rare 3 today. Kris Wilkes, despite a low FG percentage in the game, did get to the line a ton, and his 7-9 from the charity stripe helped him get to 14 points.
In the negatives, boy, Prince Ali had a rough night. He had a late 3 in the final minute of play, which were his first points of the game, ending up 1-9 from the field. And people who watched this game have to be worried about UCLA’s three-point defense. Yes, Washington State takes and makes a lot of 3 pointers, but the Cougars got too many open looks for Bruin fans to feel comfortable, and they still made 40% of their looks.
Of course, we do have to mention that two Bruins reached milestones tonight. Both Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh reached the 1,000 point plateau in the UCLA careers, becoming the 55th and 56th players in Bruin history to reach that mark. In this age of one-and-done, those are impressive accomplishments, so congratulations to both players!
Aaron Holiday led the Bruins with 33 points, and tied for the assist lead with Jaylen Hands with 4. Thomas Welsh led the Bruins in rebounds with 14. Robert Franks led the Cougars with 20 points.
- Player of the Game: GG GOLO-ok it’s Aaron Holiday - You all saw the stat line, right?
- Point of Emphasis: 3-point defense - Washington State likes to take 3 point shots, so it’s especially scary that UCLA seemed more than willing at times to give up so many wide-open attempts. Too often, the Bruins were left scrambling to recover on defense, and that led to easy shots. UCLA has had a recent stretch of good defensive play, but this was a rough outing for a good stretch of the game.
- Jaylen Hands is growing - Not physically (well, not that I know of), but the game seems to be slowing down for him, which is a great sign for the Bruins going forward. Aaron Holiday played all 40 minutes, in part because Steve Alford doesn’t trust the UCLA offense with him off the court, but it may be time to try that again, as Hands has seemed much more at ease in the past few games. Even better, his 3-point shot is starting to fall with regularity, and the UCLA offense really opens up when defenses have to respect UCLA’s outside shooters.
UCLA next plays on Sunday when they host the Washington Huskies. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:00 PM PST.