Predictions are an important part of sports, so here’s one for all of you college basketball fans out there: UCLA will finish with a better record than its 15-17 mark a year ago.
Then again, that’s a relatively safe assumption, especially since the Bruins are 7-0 and ranked 11th in the country.
“It is a fun time,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s just a fun group because not only are they talented players; they’re just great young men. It’s been a fun bunch all the way back to the summer when we were putting them together and then (we did) the Australian trip and got to do some bonding on that trip. So yeah, we haven’t had adversity yet – and adversity can always do some things to you – so we’ve got to handle some of that when it does hit. We’ve had some in-game stuff we’ve had to deal with and the guys have dealt with it really, really well because we’ve played seven games in probably six different styles. That’s been fun to see how they’ve reacted to that. But they’re just a great group to come to work every day to try to get better because they want to get better and that’s always fun.”
The Bruins have blitzed through their schedule, blasting six overmatched foes by double digits before getting a mild challenge from Texas A&M this past Sunday. UCLA, however, beat the Aggies, 74-67, in the Wooden Legacy final. Lonzo Ball, a 6-6 freshman guard, finished with 16 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, three blocks and one steal in 36 minutes.
“If you like basketball, you just want to go watch him play,” Alford said. “He’s part of showtime. He’s part of playing the game at a really accelerated pace. He sees plays. We always talk about how good guards can see one play ahead; I swear Lonzo sees them two and three plays ahead. He just finds people. He’s got great length, great speed. You can hold him scoreless and in a matter of 50 seconds he can hit you for nine points. He can beat you in so many ways. And the scary part is he’s just touching the tip of it. As you know, when you go from high school to college, there’s adjustment in the game, the speed, the strength, all this that takes place. He’s starting to figure all that out. As he’s starting to figure all that out, he’s taken his game to another level. As a fan of the game, he’s just so fun to watch play the game because he does it the right way and he does it at such an exciting level.”
The Bruins will need Ball to be in top form later this week – maybe not against UC Riverside on Wednesday, but definitely against No. 1 Kentucky (7-0) at Rupp Arena on Saturday. The Wildcats have been unchallenged and are coming off a 115-69 win over Arizona State.
“Obviously Kentucky, the times that I’ve seen them or just seen clips of them, highly talented both in the front court and backcourt, and Cal’s got them playing at a breakneck speed,” Alford said. “When we get to that and to the film, we’ll have to look at some things.”
UCLA loves to get up and down the court and play at a fast pace, but that seems like a bad idea against Kentucky, no?
Maybe, maybe not.
“One of the mistakes I think I made last year was trying to change our identity when we lost a couple games,” Alford said. “We’re creating identity ourselves, so I don’t see us deviating much from the identity that we have. We just know we’re going to have to play really well.”
Tip-off on Saturday is at 12:30 p.m. ET.