UCLA Notches Resume Win in CBS Sports Classic

It’s been a roller coaster season for UCLA, and it’s only December. The Bruins stole headlines right out of the gate on their opening season trip to China, when three of their players were arrested for shoplifting. Weeks later they were back on the front pages when Lavar Ball pulled his son LiAngelo out of school. That headline isn’t necessarily the worst news for Steve Alford. Through all the off the court drama however, the Bruins struggled to find that signature win on the court. Until Saturday, when UCLA beat #7 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic.

Prior to Saturday’s win, UCLA had been 0-3 in “resume boosting” wins this year. They gave up 100 in a loss to Creighton, blew a 15 point lead at Michigan, and lost by double digits to Cincinnati. UCLA was a game away from going into conference play with their best non conference win coming against South Dakota (12-4). And they only won that game by three, at home.

That changed Saturday. The day after announcing full season suspensions for Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, UCLA came out and played the best game of their season. Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes were sensational, and the Bruins put together a complete game to beat Kentucky on a neutral court in New Orleans. Holiday and Wilkes each scored 20, and senior Thomas Welsh also chipped in 13 and 11 rebounds. The win moved UCLA to 9-3 heading into Pac 12 play.

It’s rare that wins in December are called monumental, or significant. However, this UCLA win is definitely important for Steve Alford and company. The Bruins roster is shorter than expected with the suspensions of Riley and Hill, two freshman who were expected to be contributors to a team that lost a bulk of it’s production last season. As a result, UCLA has had to adjust on the fly. This worked against lesser opponents, but against NCAA caliber teams, it was not good enough to win.

This weekend however, UCLA put it all together. Their senior leaders led, their un-suspended freshman shined and the result was a win over the #7 team in the country. The upset showed what UCLA needs this season to compete with the top competition. Their stars need to play at a high level consistently, and role players need to step up. An easy task? No, but it’s doable. The season is still young.

For Kentucky, the loss only add question marks to a team that was filled with them. Will this young team find consistency? Do they have a point guard who can run the show? Can someone make outside shots? They are no doubt a talented and athletic group. They got up and down against UCLA, and Hamidou Diallo excelled. But in tight games, they’ve shown carelessness with the ball and, outside Kevin Knox, an inability to make shots from outside. SEC play will be a test for John Calipari this year.

Conference play starts this week. Both the SEC and Pac 12 are filled with teams that can enhance both teams’ resumes. We learned from Saturday that Kentucky may still have a few question marks heading into SEC play. On the other hand, UCLA may have found momentum as they get ready for Pac 12 action.

 

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