For the second time in the last three days, the game was secondary to the injury report. UCLA crushed Washington 98-66. I almost posted the "game was in the refrigerator" when it was 11-0 1 minute and 33 seconds gone in the first half.
But then TJ got hurt in the first half and the fun stopped. Last week, it was Lonzo against Arizona State this week it was TJ Leaf against UW.
Alford on Leaf ... "We hope it's good ... Crutches, boot, let him rest it. Just a sprain. Not a bad one."— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) March 2, 2017
As a practical matter, this means no TJ Leaf against WSU. The Pac-12 Tournament will likely be the rubber match tournament where we could play JustSC, Arizona, and Oregon in three days. All the teams that beat us once during the season but we beat the second time. To say we need TJ for the tournament is understatement. The top seed out West in the NCAA tournament possibility (seemed likely if we ran the table with the only question being UCLA or Gonzaga as a 1) is off the table without Leaf. It is unrealistic to expect UCLA to win a 3-day tournament with a seven men rotation.
Leaf's loss is big in other ways as well. Gyorgy Goloman becomes the starting four or power forward. The backup power forward is now, wait for it, Lonzo Ball. That's right. In a sense now, Aaron Holiday now backs up 1-4 and UCLA's bench is now Holiday and Ike Anigbogu. And, as Bill Walton might say, "Please, Anigbogu and Welsh cannot play together." Big-big last year was one of the reasons we had a losing record.
The loss of Leaf has another effect in scheming. In our 3-2 zone, Ball as a four goes down low and Holiday takes his spot up high if GG is not on the floor. There is no option here as Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, and Holiday are all incapable of being low in a zone against an elite team.
It is yet another example of the versatility and skill of Ball that he can play four at this level. As Ben Bolch reports for the LA Times:
The Bruins could give Leaf as much as two weeks of rest if needed before opening the NCAA tournament, though an absence of any length would be crushing. Leaf entered the game averaging a team-high 16.8 points and was tied with Thomas Welsh for the team lead at 8.7 rebounds per game.
Should Leaf miss additional time, reserve forward Gyorgy Goloman probably would be tapped to fill the void. Goloman is strong defensively but somewhat limited on offense, averaging 3.5 points in 10.9 minutes a game before Wednesday. He had eight points and six rebounds in 26 minutes against the Huskies.
The Bruins also could use the four-guard lineup they had abandoned in recent weeks, though they could go to it for only short stretches because they have no other backups at the position who play regularly.
"With TJ out and TJ down, we're going to have to play some four guards like we did in November and December," Alford said.
Of course, you want Ball at point. You want Ball at the top of the zone. He had four steals alone last night. Again, Ball, to my mind, is the best UCLA player this century, but he is still a human being. Now, at the end of close games, you have to think it is four guards and Welsh/Anigbogu. Holiday has to be on the floor with Ball, Hamilton, Alford. That means Ball is your four, especially on defense.
Now, of course, we wish that backup power forward Alex Olesinski was not redshirting. But, keep in mind, Olesinski is not as good as GG. He is not the answer against better teams. Further, Prince Ali, who IS an elite athlete and also redshirting, would only be a partial solution. If Ali could play, Ball still sees minutes at the four and almost certainly at the end of games.
Last on GG. I disagree with Ben Bolch on the defense comment. GG had a wild night. Statistically, he had a mini-Lonzo like stat line. In addition to his eight points and six boards, he had two assists, two steals, and 3 blocks. Statistically, GG was not bad. There are a couple problems with this line of thinking. One, UW's Noah Dickerson destroyed GG. The only guy on Washington that had a good game was Dickerson. Dickerson was matched up on GG. GG is a good eighth man to have on a team. He plays hard, smart and knows his role. GG is not a starting four for an elite team. Athletically, he is not an elite player.
Against WSU on Saturday that should not matter. Going forward, it will. All thoughts are now on Leaf and his ankle sprain. UCLA has to have him for its deep tourney run.