After dropping No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena 97-92, UCLA is now 9-0, its best start in a decade. The last time the Bruins burst to a 9-0 record, a former three-star prospect named Russell Westbrook was a freshman.
This year's UCLA team has more talent than that 2006-07 squad did, and now it's showing to be a viable and enticing Final Four candidate after what transpired Saturday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA, without question, is even more dangerous than we thought. I mean, heading into Saturday it was clear that this one of the most entertaining and fun teams in America. I told you just a few days ago that you needed to sneak your way onto the UCLA bandwagon. I hope you listened. Because the line is now long and the temps are dropping.
But Saturday's game was a next-level performance. I had plenty of people mocking me on Twitter for taking UCLA +8 to cover.
But here we are now, UCLA now owning the most impressive win in college basketball this season. The Bruins looked pretty damn good on the whole with their 97-92 win at Rupp Arena over a previously undefeated Wildcats team that will fall from the top of the rankings come Monday. How unlikely was this outcome? John Calipari lost just the fifth game in his UK career inside Rupp, and it was the first time since 2012 UK fell at home to a non-conference opponent.
Calipari said afterward that UCLA's offensive scheme and its imposing personnel "manhandled" his team.
Coach Cal: I've got to give credit to them ... to come in to this building ... they manhandled us.— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 3, 2016
Cal is downplaying his own team's performance, but the assessment is still fair, considering no one had ever scored that many points on a Cal-coached Kentucky team before. And it happened at Rupp! It's probable that no else is going to win at UK this season (except maybe Kansas).
And UCLA, without debate, will not have a better victory this regular season.
The inspiring thing for Steve Alford's team is, despite the deserved hype to this point in the season, freshman point guard Lonzo Ball (14 points, seven assists, six turnovers) was merely OK. Senior shooting guard Bryce Alford also scored 14, but he had just one assist and not a single rebound. So they can clearly play with, and beat, the elite teams even when their best players aren't on top of their game, which is a sure sign of a really good team.
They were able to do this because everyone else for UCLA stepped up. Don't get it twisted: This is not a deep team, but it's showing signs of having one of the most dynamic six-man rotations in college hoops.
T.J. Leaf, who was a five-star prospect, had his breakout game. Calipari also said afterward that Leaf dominated the game. To me, Leaf was certainly the MVP on Saturday. He 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. He also had one impressive hustle play after another, and on the whole proved he's extremely tough despite a boy-next-door demeanor.
Thanks to Leaf, and a huge boom off the bench from Aaron Holiday, UCLA turned a 41-all game into a 60-47 difference to start the second half. The only reason the game was close early on was due to Ball's iffy play and UCLA's turnover problems. But once the turnovers went away, the game changed heavily. Credit to John Gasaway for tracking this, because this is an insane offensive clip for any team playing on the road, let alone against the top-ranked and undefeated Wildcats.
On possessions where the Bruins don't turn the ball over, they're averaging 1.65 points per trip. UK's getting shredded.— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) December 3, 2016
At game's end, UCLA was a tick under 1.20 points per possession, just a tremendous offensive performance.
Ball is getting the lion's share of the attention, and Alford's the team's most fearless player, but I can't stress enough how important it is to UCLA's long-term success that they've got all these guys who can swoop in and gash other teams on offense; relentless one-man battalions that comprise one of the best offensive teams in the country.
I haven't even gotten to Isaac Hamilton who -- hello -- actually leads the team in scoring (and had a game-high 19). Thomas Welsh provided a couple of big plays in the second half that essentially kept Kentucky at arm's length.
Just one guy after another.
And by the way, UCLA did this despite running into foul trouble.
Even role players got in on the goods. Did you catch this ridiculous follow-up by freshman Ike Anigbogu? Come on now.
For the second straight season, UCLA was responsible for giving Kentucky its first loss of the season. But that's where the thread comparisons end, because the UCLA of last season went on to be a bust and finish below .500. This group is still one of a small batch of undefeated teams left in America and will get a bump in seed line come Selection Sunday thanks to this massive road victory.
UCLA went into Rupp and not only got a win, but played the way it wanted to play and showed America how formidable its starting five is. It was a reputation-establishing game on a national stage.