The regular season has finally begun for the UCLA Bruins, and they got things on the right foot as the Bruins jumped out to an early lead and then cruised past the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons by the final score of 96-71.
There are a few takeaways, and I’ll get to them below, but on an individual level let’s talk about Kris Wilkes. Going into the season, it was pretty apparent that Wilkes would have to become more of a leader on the court for the Bruins, and in his first real chance to showcase this new reality, Wilkes delivered the goods. He finished with 27 points on an efficient 11-19 shooting, including 3-7 from deep. He also threw in 10 rebounds and 3 assists, and showcased an increased level of effort on the defensive end. It was exactly what you wanted to see from Wilkes in this game against this type of opponent, and let’s hope things continue in this vein for the rest of the season.
The other major takeaway was the defense of the Bruins, specifically in the middle. A lot had been made of UCLA’s defensive deficiencies in the past (or in the most recent presser where Alford decided the best defense was a good offense) but UCLA actually looked....good? Certainly better than they had for the past few years, and most of that had to do with the frontcourt players UCLA had on the floor. Look, I love Thomas Welsh as much as the next guy, and I know it’s only one game, but Moses Brown looks like a huge upgrade for him as the defensive anchor, with the ability to adjust shots without needing to jump. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised by Brown’s defensive prowess, as all reports were that he was a relatively rough product. Jalen Hill was pressed into the starting lineup thanks to Cody Riley’s injury, and he was a solid frontcourt partner. This was as impressive an opening outing defensively as we’ve seen in a good while (at least since the Howland era).
Of course, I’d be remiss if I did not point out that IPFW is not on UCLA’s level from a talent standpoint, and that’s true. On paper, UCLA should have won this game handily, and they did. But that’s also the point of these early games. UCLA looked sloppy, but they were able to work on things in a safe environment where they weren’t in danger of losing, and everyone came out of the game healthy. Mission accomplished.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins in scoring with 27 points. Moses Brown led the team in rebounds with 17(!), and Jaylen Hands led the team in assists with 7. John Konchar led the Mastodons with 25 points.
- Player of the Game: Moses Brown - I sang Kris Wilkes’s praises up top, but the most impressive player on the court for the Bruins was true freshman Moses Brown. Brown absolutely lived up to his 5-star billing, putting up a 19 point, 17 rebound performance in his first official game. As I said, his defensive performance was incredibly encouraging. He’s still raw in some aspects (like his multiple traveling violations) but Brown looks like he can make a huge impact this year.
- Area of Improvement: Perimeter Defense - The Mastodons are normally a solid 3-point shooting team, having shot 36.6% from deep last year. They went 9-37 (24.3%) from deep in this game, but not for a lack of open looks. Frankly, UCLA gave up a ton of open opportunities from deep, and if the Mastodons had shot better, they could have made a game of this. UCLA also had turnover problems, but a lot of those felt like ones that can be cleaned up with time. The perimeter defense may need much more attention, however.
- My Kingdom for Interior Passing - No seriously; one year UCLA will figure out how to pass inside to a big who has a huge size advantage and they will cruise to a victory. I look forward to that day happening, but it was not this day.
The Bruins will now be off until this Friday, when they host Long Beach State. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 PM PST.