Even when UCLA looks off, they're still on: Takeaways from win over Ohio State
UCLA didn't have its A game, the Buckeyes are solid, and the Buins still won by double-digits
We know UCLA has a really good thing going because the second-ranked Bruins put on a merely OK performance against Ohio State on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic ... and won 86-73.
UCLA is now 12-0 and has practically assured itself of a perfect run in non-conference play. The Bruins host Western Michigan on Wednesday night, and a win there would mean Steve Alford's group would be undefeated for the season outside of Pac-12 play.
Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday each put up a game-high 20 points. Lonzo Ball flirted with a triple-double, but instead wound up with a workmanlike triple-single: nine rebounds, nine assists, eight points.
Ohio State is now 8-3.
Here's what else to know from UCLA's win on Saturday.
1. No Welsh, no problem
The Bruins are so capable, you probably missed the fact they didn't have their full roster available. Thomas Welsh, a likely future NBA pick, doesn't even play in the game and yet UCLA isn't even threatened. The 7-footer sat because of a bruised knee suffered earlier this week. It won't keep him out much longer, and if anything, this kind of experience will be good for UCLA.
No coach wants injuries. Every coach wants to know as soon as possible how his team will respond to a thin roster. UCLA has twice been shorthanded this season without Welsh but it's not been a problem. The number of teams in America who could go 2-0 against major-conference competition while sitting a 7-foot start is about five or six teams deep, max.
2. Aaron Holiday is the best sixth man in the America
Because UCLA is so dynamic and so interesting, you're going to be able to read about 15 story lines regarding this team as the season goes along. The Holiday angle is one of the most important. He was a starter last season, when UCLA finished below .500 and was the biggest disappointment in America.
Now Holiday is coming off the bench, and not just that, but he's relishing the role. He was able to put up 20 on Ohio State and in the process secure himself as the best first-man-off-the-bench in the country. It's not a role a lot of players would take. Guys want to start. Holiday's older brother, Jrue, is an NBAer. You wouldn't see all players embrace this the way he has.
But it's just that extra ingredient that makes UCLA all the more dangerous. The team is basically playing with six starters. Holiday would be a starting shooting guard at almost any other program in America this season. "Double digit win. I think this team's getting better," Alford said on CBS afterward.No Welsh, yet six players in double figures still. First 20 minutes was the slowest UCLA's been all season. Rebound rate without Walsh
3. OSU is a mystery and will remain that way
How good is Ohio State? We aren't going to know for a while. The Buckeyes' three losses have come at Virginia, at home against Florida Atlantic (one of the worst losses by any team in America this season) and now on a neutral court against maybe the best team in the country.
The Buckeyes are 37th in KenPom, but their best win is against Providence. Providence might not (or might!) be worthy of the NCAA tourney this season. Second-best win for Thad Matta's team? UConn, which is 4-5. So we don't really know, and with the Big Ten probably being top-heavy but soft in the middle, we're going to need another three or four weeks before having a verdict on Ohio State's standing within that league and all of college basketball.
This was a big opportunity on Saturday, and a win would've been a huge boost to the program.
4. Even when they're off, UCLA is still on
UCLA isn't going to have a lot of bad nights from deep. The Bruins entered the day as the best 2-point and 3-point shooting team in America. That kind of offensive firepower/dominance doesn't happen almost ever. I can't yet find evidence of a team finishing a college basketball season leading the nation in percentages from both.
But UCLA might do it.
If it doesn't, we'll see more repeats of Saturday, which I find unlikely. The Bruins shot 10-of-31 (32.3 percent) from 3-point range, which caused their team percentage to fall to 44 percent, now No. 4 in the nation. Even still, plays like this are why you can never, ever, ever sleep on UCLA. They will bury you with even a foot of space.
Here are three of Bryce Alford's 20 points. Lazy take by the defender on the screen, and because Alford has the room, he launches and connects. Alford is good for 1-4 of these kind of shots per game. You cannot fall asleep on those screens, especially on the wings. Alford loves 45-degree-angle 3-pointers.
You have to know if you're guarding Alford, you can never go under the screen. pic.twitter.com/aMoybdD9Ug— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) December 17, 2016
This is why UCLA gets to 86 points and looks just OK in the process. Their average is most other teams' really good. They've managed to adjust expectations in a hurry, and the only way you're going to beat them is to one-up them on offense. So far, no one has come close.
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