#2 UCLA Bruins (13-1)
- Latest BTD Pac-12 Power Rankings: 1st Overall (0-1)
- Head Coach: Steve Alford (4th Season)
- Top Performer: T.J. Leaf (17.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG)
- Points For: 95.1 PPG (2nd)
- Points Against: 75.1 PPG (248th)
- Last Game/Streak: 89-87 Loss at #21 Oregon (1L)
It may not be the glory years again just yet, but for the first time in a long time, the buzz is somewhat palpable around Westwood. UCLA has developed into a legitimate contender in head coach Steve Alford’s fourth season at the helm and the Bruins’ hopes of playing into the final weekend of the season are becoming increasingly realistic. Is this the best UCLA team we’ve see since Ben Howland’s groups made it to three straight Final Fours from 2005-2008? It may just be about the right time to start asking such questions.
While Wednesday night’s conference opener against Oregon may have ended on a sour note for the previously unbeaten Bruins, the truth of the matter is that along with USC, Arizona, Colorado and the aforementioned Ducks, UCLA is a legitimate challenger for a Pac-12 title this season. The trick for Alford and company will now be keeping this roster working cohesively, with a litany of big-time scorers playing side-by-side.
The most well-known commodity on the Bruins is rising freshman Lonzo Ball (13.7 PPG), who has been labeled as the “savior” of UCLA basketball since he committed to the program back in high school. Despite getting off to an electric start his rookie campaign, Ball, who is projected to be a top-pick in next year’s NBA Draft, is only the fifth leading scorer on the Bruins’ roster, a sheer testament to this team’s prolific abilities. UCLA currently averages 95.1 PPG as a team, second nationally only to The Citadel’s 102 PPG mark.
In front of ball on the score sheet is fellow star freshman T.J. Leaf (17.2 PPG), head coach Steve Alford’s son, Bryce Alford (16.6 PPG), and a duo of superbly gifted guards in senior Isaac Hamilton (15.7 PPG) and sophomore Aaron Holiday (13.9 PPG). On the inside, UCLA is led by the towering combo of Ike Anigbogu (5.4 PPG) and Gyorgy Goloman (5.1 PPG), whose blue-collar roles perfectly compliment the Bruins’ finesse approach.
Still a porous defense team, UCLA brings a “score first, defend later” approach, which could aid a hit-or-miss Oregon State offensive team on Friday night in Corvallis. While the Bruins come into this one fresh off their first loss of the 2016-2017 season, the Beavers are coming off their first win over a Division I opponent since November 13th, with their 69-50 victory against Kent State.
Keys To The Game
⇛ OSU: Don’t Get Caught Up In The UCLA Show
It’s up-tempo. It’s free-flowing. It’s an endless assault of showtime dunks, three-point heaves and crafty playmakers that has catapaulted the UCLA offense into one of the toughest shows in the country to slow down. On Friday night however, that's exactly the task that Oregon State will have to navigate around. Focus number one for the Beavers should be to make sure they don't get into a track meet with the Bruins and let the tempo of the action find a slower and more methodical pace. That approach can only help Oregon State try to contain what is arguably the best offense in all of college basketball.
⇛ Make UCLA Defend The Interior
It would be a perfect scenario to welcome back injured forward Tres Tinkle, as the Bruins are thin in the front-court and the combination of Tinkle and Drew Eubanks inside could mess with UCLA’s depth and approach. However, Tinkle’s return is still a bit of a ways off and Eubanks tried to single-handedly carry the load for much too long already this season, to just about no avail. The Beavers still should look to be the aggressor on the interior as UCLA holds a serious talent advantage over Oregon State all around the perimeter. Capatlizing on mis-matches and forcing UCLA to play from the inside-out could help the Beavers to hang around in this one.
Player To Watch
Guard - Lonzo Ball (Freshman)
There’s not much to say about the talented freshman that hasn't already been said before but it seems like almost game-by-game, the standout guard for the Bruins is improving by drastic measures. That doesn't bode well for opponents like Oregon State, who have had their fair share of lackluster defensive showing this season. Ball’s scoring is what gets him most of his initial accolades but when you take in the scope of his game, from his stellar court vision to underrated rebounding ability, Ball is the type of triple-threat player that can rip any kind of defensive gameplan into shreds. Oregon State will need an inventive game plan to attempt to contain the rising star, all game long.