To err is human, and so is Lonzo: With Kentucky Freshman Point Guard De’Aaron Fox having the game of his life while his UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball was not, the Wildcats eliminate the Bruins, who committed too many errors — mental and physical — in an 86-75 loss
Lonzo Ball is one of the best players to ever wear those four letters across his chest. But his final game for UCLA was not up to his lofty standards. It was so far below his bar, that rumors of a groin pull gained traction in cyberspace. But Coach Steve Alford denied any injury, and took away a pretty damn good excuse for the Bruins’ 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky.
Other excuses could be the foul trouble that Thomas Welsh was in, or the unusually hot outside shooting by the Wildcats, but the Bruins basically just got outplayed by what was tonight, a superior team. DeAaron Fox was unstoppable, driving around UCLA’s perimeter defenders like they were stuck in quicksand, and if there was any token resistance put up, he used screen and picks to get completely open anyway. He carried the team with 39 points, except for early in the second half. That’s when his teammate Malik Monk scored 10 straight points, helping the Cats to get some separation, after a seesaw first half that ended 36-33 UK.
The Bruins made it that close in the first half thanks to T.J. Leaf, who was the clear MVP early. Despite the PACE being definitively in Kentucky’s favor, Lonzo Ball and Leaf made enough plays to keep it close. In the second half, the Bruins WERE able to ramp up the pace, scoring a lot more and shooting a lot better than before the break, but the Bruin Defense lost their intensity, and just could not corral Fox and Monk.
After Intermission, it was actually Isaac Hamilton who carried the Bruins Offensively. Next to the maestro Ball, Hamilton was probably the best player for the Bruins in this postseason, on Offense, at least. Hamilton and Leaf finished with 17 points a piece in the losing effort.
A telling stat, one that Coach Alford mentioned after the game, was that the Bruins had 13 Turnovers and only 16 Assists. That is NOT AT ALL characteristic of the Lonzo-led attack. Kentucky’s Defense had much to do with that, but the Bruins made several unforced errors as well, like kicking a ball out of bounds, and deflecting an easy, uncontested rebound out of bounds. Also, Lonzo’s best pass of the game, a long outlet pass for a breakaway, resulted in a muffed lay-up.
The Bruins did not play their best game, on a night when they needed to. They were not able to make Defensive adjustments, specifically to slow down Fox when it was apparent he was going to try to take over this game. He even scored all of the Wildcats’ first 8 points, but no strategy implemented did any good.
Of course losing to a team like Kentucky, who had familiarity with the Bruins and a double-revenge motivation to boot, is no shameful occurrence. Although Lonzo announced already that he is gone, it appears that the Coach is staying (despite rumors to the contrary), and that means the Nation’s #2 recruiting class should stay intact. If Leaf and Ike Anigbogu stick around, there is plenty to look forward to next season.
Hopefully, the exciting brand of hoops that the Bruins displayed on Offense this year was not 100% due just to Lonzo. I am hoping that the 91 points a game, were also a product of Coaching, and design. If true, then next season will see a continuation of exciting, spectator-pleasing “Showtime-like” basketball, and another chance to go deep (deeper) into the Tournament.