UCLA beat Utah 84-63 and as Inside UCLA’s Thuc Nhi Nguyen wrote:
UCLA lost its all-time leader in 3-point shooting and its generational talent at point guard from last season. On Thursday, it didn’t matter.
With the same sharp-shooting technique as last year’s Sweet 16 team, the Bruins shot better than 50 percent from 3-point range for a second straight game to dispatch Utah 83-64 on Thursday in Pauley Pavilion.
Unlike the UC Berkeley game which was against a bad, poorly coached team, this three point barrage was against a defense that was looking good previously. As the St. Lake Tribune wrote:
The Utes came into the night with one of the toughest defenses to score on in the Pac-12, and they’d excelled at limiting an opponent’s 3-point shooting.
That was before UCLA guards Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes caught fire.
The final buzzer seemed to be the only thing that stopped Holiday as he scored 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with six assists as the Bruins dealt Utah an 83-64 loss in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night. Wilkes added 19 as the Bruins shot 52 percent from the field and made 12 3-pointers, improving to a league-best 4-1.
Even Ben Bolch of the LA Times had to write some nice things in an article entitled “Holiday season just keeps getting better for the Bruins”:
Holiday’s display came on the same day he was announced as one of 25 players on the midseason watch list for the John Wooden Award, given each season to the nation’s top college basketball player. . .
Holiday was nearly perfect in helping his team take a 41-33 halftime lead. He scored 13 points while making all four of his shots, including three three-pointers, and compiling six assists against only one turnover. . . .
Alford said Holiday has grown in his feel for how to influence the game beyond scoring. His latest big stat line came while holding Utah guard Justin Bibbins to 12 points on four-for-10 shooting. Holiday’s final assist came after the game when he pushed a microphone closer to the soft-spoken Wilkes in the interview room.
Steve Alford said of Holiday:
There’s not many players in the nation better than him. He’s controlling the game now. I think where he has really grown is his feel of the game of how you can take over a game other than just scoring. He’s doing that. Not only did he have 20 points and six assists, but he is guarding [Utah’s Justin] Bibbins. It’s not like we have to put him somewhere else to conserve energy or try to keep him out of foul trouble. He’s really smart and goes about his business. He started the season slow shooting the basketball and now they’re starting to go in like they were his first two years. He does a lot of good things for us. He’s been extremely coachable over the years and he’s just grown and matured. He’s really helping our young guys a lot.
While Holiday was perfect to start, everyone pitched in. Don’t take our word for it, listen to Utah Coach Krystkowiak:
We worked on this team can shoot the ball, a lot of different guys with their length. It was like a bad dream to start the game. It seemed like about their first eight shots were uncontested swishes. It even got compounded. They finally missed one, and then got the rebound and made it.
Like last year, the defense was not as good as one would hope. Keep in mind, Utah was missing some key insider players. The Daily Bruin added:
UCLA’s offense would cool some and Utah hung in the game by pounding the ball inside in the first half, racking up 20 points in the paint to trim the deficit to eight points at halftime.
But the first half was not a fluke. UCLA came out strong in the second half:
But, just as they did in the first half, the Bruins opened the second half on a roll, increasing their advantage to 15 points within the first four minutes of the period.
The flashiest play of the game came during that stretch, when freshman guard Kris Wilkes grabbed a steal and then sprinted the floor to slam home an alley-oop from redshirt sophomore guard Prince Ali.
Overall, it was a nice win for the first place Bruins with the offense looking as good as last year. Keep it up! If the defense can play as well as it has at times this year, this team will be in first place for a while.