Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Holiday shines in sixth-man role with Bruins


Oficially, he is UCLA’s sixth man. Coach Steve Alford calls him the sixth starter because he plays so many minutes.
Whatever he goes by, Aaron Holiday seems to have a sixth sense about what his team needs.
The sophomore point guard provided tenacious defense and savvy shot-making with Lonzo Ball struggling in the first half against Kentucky. A week later, Holiday made all five of his three-point shots as a we-can-do-that-too rebuttal to Michigan’s success from beyond the arc.
“He’s just as important as any of our five starters,” UCLA shooting guard Bryce Alfordsaid Tuesday. “He’s done an unbelievable job of when our starters aren’t doing well or there’s one or two guys in the starting lineup that didn’t start the game right, he comes in and he picks us up and I don’t think there’s been a game this year that he hasn’t done that yet. He’s a perfect guy for that role and we value him a whole lot.”
Holiday is averaging more points in fewer minutes compared with his freshman season, when he started all 32 games. A year ago, he averaged 10.3 points and 3.9 assists in 31.7 minutes per game while shooting 39.4% (41.9% from three-point range). Those averages have improved to 13.3 points and 4.2 assists in 25.8 minutes per game this season, largely because he’s shooting 55.6% and a team-best 60% from beyond the arc.
Holiday had never come off the bench before this season but isn’t about to argue with the results.
“You’ve got to do what’s best for the team,” he said, “and right now it’s working really well because we’re 10-0.”
Holiday’s development is partially the result of testing himself against better players in his own family. He spent part of his summer playing against his two brothers: Jrue, a guard with the New Orleans Pelicans who starred at UCLA, and Justin, a guard with the New York Knicks. Both older siblings are significantly taller than the 6-foot-1 Aaron, forcing him to find ways to score against NBA-caliber defenders.
Steve Alford said Holiday’s energy and versatility as someone who can beat teams off the dribble and with his jump shot have provided ingredients that were missing from the team’s reserve unit a year ago.
“He symbolizes what this team’s been about,” Alford said. “He’s been selfless because here’s a guy that started every game last year and now he’s coming off the bench. It’s a new role but much more efficient.”
Sit this one out?
UCLA’s guard rotation has been such a success that Steve Alford acknowledged the possibility of Prince Ali redshirting. The sophomore guard has not played after undergoing surgery in July to repair torn meniscus in his left knee, though Alford said Ali had resumed non-contact drills and was able to dunk.
“This time next week we need to probably sit and have a discussion just on his future,” Alford said. “I always want to do what’s best for the player, so it’s really going to be what’s best for Prince.”
Redshirting would preserve another year of eligibility for a player whose role seems uncertain behind Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Ball and Holiday. Alford and Hamilton are graduating after this season and Ball is expected to declare for the NBA draft, potentially creating a better opportunity for Ali to play more minutes next season.
Quick hits
Steve Alford said center Thomas Welsh, who sat out the game against Michigan because of a bruised right knee, remained questionable for UCLA’s game against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion but appeared “a little bit more viable” for the Bruins’ game against Ohio State on Saturday in Las Vegas. … Backup forward Alex Olesinski (foot) has been outfitted with a protective walking boot and is not expected to play in either game this week. … UCLA remained No. 2 in the Associated Press poll but gained an additional first-place vote, giving the Bruins three.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.
Update: Transition defense and pressuring the ball in halfcourt situations top of the list of improvements UCLA Coach Steve Alford said he wants the No. 2 Bruins (10-0) to make before opening Pac-12 Conference play later this month. There will likely be plenty of opportunity to tinker against UC Santa Barbara (1-6), whose only victory this season came against Sonoma State. Alford said he expects the Gauchos, led by junior guard Gabe Vincent, to test the Bruins with an inside-out approach and a 3-2 zone defense. “We haven’t played a lot of teams that throw the ball inside as much as Santa Barbara does,” Alford said.
Twitter: @latbbolch

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