Monday, December 12, 2016

OCR: Stars come out and No. 2 UCLA puts on quite a show

UCLA Bruins guard Aaron Holiday (3) reacts after scoring against the Michigan Wolverines in the second half on Saturday in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

NOV 10, 2016 | jeff miller |o.c. register | ARTICLE LINK
LOS ANGELES – Vince Vaughn was here. So was Jessica Alba.
And Jamaal Wilkes and Michael Warren, two glorious pieces of UCLA basketball past.
A full house also was here at Pauley Pavilion, here to witness the current Bruins put on a display of flexed muscle impressive by anyone’s standards.
And that was saying something Saturday because that Body by Jake guy was here, too.
They were all here to watch No. 2 UCLA play like it could be worthy of a one-notch climb, the Bruins sustaining 40 minutes of a racing pulse and a frenzied, fantastic pace for a pulling-away 102-84 victory over Michigan.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here, playing in front of that crowd,” senior guard Bryce Alford said. “We’re starting to put on a show for people. I think the word of mouth is really starting to spread.”
It is spreading, not unlike the way UCLA again spread the offense, five players scoring 14 points or more on a night when every Bruin who appeared for longer than a minute had at least one assist.
Tied at halftime, 50-50, UCLA simply continued to fly past Wolverines, to leap over Wolverines and to power through Wolverines.
Finally, in the closing few minutes, T.J. Leaf took Ike Anigbogu’s long outlet pass, charged toward the rim and emphatically dunked, defeating an opponent about to be officially beaten.
If the Wolverines didn’t feel buried by the Bruins at that point, they probably did feel buried by the Pauley Pavilion noise, the first day of winter break for UCLA's students anything but peaceful.
“We knew Michigan was going to give us a good punch,” said Lonzo Ball, the young point guard who again was right on point. “We took it. We came out in the second half and did what we were supposed to do.”
Man, did they ever, the Bruins moving to 10-0 by upping their defensive intensity, without their offensive performance slipping a bit.
Wait, what are we talking about? Slipping? UCLA actually went from shooting 61.3 percent in the first half to 74.1 percent in the second, making 20 of 27 field-goal attempts.
On 2-point tries, the Bruins were an absurd 15 of 17, a statistic that’s even more crazy considering they were just 7 of 12 on free throws.
After Leaf’s team-high 21 points, Ball had 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and enough on-court cool for both teams.
Coach Steve Alford noted that the Bruins managed all this offense on just 63 possessions, their low for the season.
They also did it without junior center Thomas Welsh and his 11 points-per-game average. Welsh sat out Saturday because of a sore knee.
“That’s how special offensively this team is,” Alford said. “Through 10 games, it’s been as close to a phenomenal offense as I can think of in my career.”
Yes, Pauley was sold out and psyched, with confetti flying and giveaway pom-poms waving, the arena housing a genuine buzz for the most-anticipated Bruins home game in years.
It has been a decade since a UCLA team opened a season this impressively and at least that long since a December college basketball game in the Southland had been considered can’t-miss.
Ball recently talked about his preference to walk around campus tucked under a hoodie, in part to stay warm but also to try to avoid extra attention.
Not long ago, a UCLA basketball player might have attempted to remain anonymous in Westwood for completely different reasons.
But that has changed quickly, very quickly, like in about the time it takes Ball to glide from one end of the floor to the other, his sneakers barely appearing to hit the floor.
Coming off a 15-17 year, UCLA is suddenly putting together a season marked by its relevance to the program’s recent history.
First time ranked as high as No. 2 since ... November of 2007.
First time starting a season 10-0 since … December of 2006.
First time beating a No. 1 team on the road since … February of 2001.
This week, along with rising to second in the Associated Press poll, the Bruins climbed to No. 5 – after Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky – among odds makers forecasting the next NCAA champion.
“They could be special because they get it,” Alford said. “It’s a high-basketball IQ group. It’s a team that can make shots. It’s a team that can pass and dribble it.”
The key then? Defensive growth, the coach said, noting, “If we do that, we got a chance to be pretty good, I think.”
Pretty good … and then some. Pretty good … and then a whole lot more. Pretty good … and then the whole darn thing?
“The sky’s the limit,” Ball said.
The sky? The way this team is soaring right now, why stop there?
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