|UCLA's head coach Steve Alford, right, signals to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)|
dec 17, 2016 | mark Whicker | THE L.A. daily newS | ARTICLE LINK
LAS VEGAS >> The latest guy to ask about the methodology of beating UCLA was Thad Matta, the Ohio State men’s basketball coach.
He was no help, either.
“They have that balance, which is a great thing,” Matta said Saturday. “You don’t know which one is going to get you, but you know it’s coming. They can shoot threes, but their big guys can really finish around the rim. And when they run, they just make sure it gets to the open guy. It’s amazing, how that works.”
On a day when not everything worked, UCLA raised its record to 12-0 overall and 3-0 against the Big Ten.
It played through 11 first-half turnovers. It adjusted to the rare sight of a 3-pointer bouncing off the rim. Eventually they just held the Buckeyes at safe distance, like a big brother putting his hand on little brother’s forehead and letting him swing away.
The final was 86-73, and it left Matta chastened and UCLA coach Steve Alford in near-wonderment. Alford called his team’s awareness and intelligence “surreal.”
We’ll see how real it is when the Bruins go down the darkened roads of the Pac-12, but they already had a five-point win over Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Right now it would take a particularly paranoid Cassandra to find any dread.
“They’re pretty good at figuring things out,” Alford said. “The things we emphasize in practice, they’re able to take care of during the games.”
Ohio State, now 7-3, is a young, underscheduled team with impressive size and strength, and it grounded the Bruins for most of the day. UCLA had only had 10 fast-break points, and missed 21 of 31 threes, after hitting the long ones at a 45.0 percent clip for the season.
But Aaron Holiday came off the bench and pushed the Bruins to a 3-point halftime lead. They began the second half with a 11-3 burst, and Ohio State couldn’t get closer than six points in the final 10 minutes.
Bryce Alford, as is his habit, brought down the gavel with a 3-pointer for a 10-point lead in the next-to-last minute. Isaac Hamilton skittered through the lane and came up with his usual quaint assortment of mid-range shots, for 17 points.
And Lonzo Ball stitched together eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and hit a couple of corkscrew 3s when Ohio State thought it had stopped everything else. It was one of the better triple-singles you’ll see.
“We had issues on the boards against (UC) Santa Barbara the other night,” Steve Alford said, “so Lonzo goes out and gets nine rebounds. As a point guard. At the end he gets the outlet and we start to run and he throws it all the way across the court to Bryce. He didn’t have to do that, but he knows Bryce is a 90 percent foul shooter and he should have the ball. Those are just things that these guys figure out.’
Holiday is one of the “four point guards” that Steve Alford plays together, at the end of halves and games. He started 32 games last year. He plays behind Ball this year, but he is UCLA’s best 3-point shooter and got to the free throw line 10 times on Saturday. He scored 20 in 25 minutes. When the water is too smooth for UCLA’s opponent, he makes waves.
“I just try to get my mind right on the bench, until my name is called,’ Holiday said. “Obviously, I can see how the game’s going and what they need me to do. Today we just needed more movement. We can get into the paint pretty easily, so it’s a matter of getting the shooters in the right spots.”
“The first half was pretty uncharacteristic,” Ball said.
The Bruins have beaten Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State from the Big 10, Kentucky and Texas A&M from the SEC. In doing so, they have beaten experience, youth, walkers, runners, bigs and smalls.
And it helps that Steve Alford seems to like the people on this team, not just the players. He laughed as he considered Hamilton, who is averaging 17 points.
“He’s a throwback, and I’ve told him that,” Steve Alford said. “He goes off one foot, he steps back and hits these awkward jumpers, he drives people crazy. He even came here wearing the short shorts, like the 80s, which I love. I told him they’re coming back, and now you’re seeing guys roll up their waistbands and the shorts are getting shorter.
“But Isaac is the type of person you want to coach. When he checks into the hotel, he’s the guy who re-folds the towels.”
Larger rooms await.