It’s NOT Cardinal Sin City — The Cardinal & Gold choke away several chances to catch the Blue & Gold at the end, as Hamilton shoots down the trojans with his 22, with Leaf’s 10 in the second half helping the Bruins win the duel in Las Vegas, 76-74
The UCLA Bruins came THIS close to Leaving Las Vegas empty-handed wearing nothing more than a barrel. UCLA almost blew a 14-point lead against lowly u$c, but never gave up the lead, going wire-to-wire to knock troy out of the Pac-12 Tournament, 76-74. Sc had a few chances to tie the game in the final minute, but Bennie Boatwright bricked up his EIGHTH missed shot of the game (with only 3 makes), and Elijah Stewart missed the uncontested 2-foot putback, allowing Lonzo Ball to grab the rebound and flick the ball to Bryce Alford, who, with 12 seconds left, sank two Free Throws to give the Bruins a 5-point lead.
SC still had a chance to come back, but they took FOREVER to get off another shot — Boatwright MADE the one that was too little, too late, with only 4 seconds left! Then, with sc out of time outs and down by 2, Lonzo inbounded to Bryce, who, before sc could foul him, threw the ball downcourt to Isaac Hamilton, and the clock ran out with UCLA on top.
So it was Bryce Alford who made the game-winning free throws, and the game-saving smart pass. But I don’t think he would call himself the Bruin hero today. Bryce had one of his worst games, going only 2-for-10 from the field, and playing a role in at least 3 Turnovers (only 1 officially charged to him). He was trying too hard in this game, forcing shots, and just not playing in rhythm. Perhaps he was trying to pick up the slack for Lonzo, who was in foul trouble after only 5 minutes of play. But Bryce always bounces back from adversity, coming through in the clutch in this game, and gearing up for a monster game on Friday night.
Bryce was not the only Bruin to suffer a subpar performance: Aaron Holiday struggled all night, going only 2-for-8 from the floor, and committing as many turnovers as buckets scored. However — Aaron’s two MADE shots were an awesome tip-in of his own miss, and a crucial 3 when the Bruins really needed it, so the two struggling Bruins actually came up huge and contributed to the win.
But if you are looking for heroes, you might look in the direction of Leaf, Hamilton, and Lonzo, as well as big men Thomas Welsh and Ike Anigbogu. Let’s start with those two bigs: Ike played a gargantuan role, neutralizing the opposing front court, grabbing 7 Rebounds in just 11 minutes. The Bruins controlled the Boards 44-33, and that was a major key to victory. Welsh snagged 11 of those 44, and also scored 11, for yet another double-double and great effort against the crosstown rivals.
As usual, Ball was the straw that stirs the drink. Despite two early fouls, Ball came back in the first half to hit two consecutive three’s that stemmed a trojan run, and he was the maestro who settled everything down while the trojans made a similar run late in the game. Ball finished with 12 Points, 7 Assists, 4 Caroms, a Steal and a huge highlight-reel Block. The Bruins blocked SEVEN shots to troy’s ONE –another stat that definitely influenced the outcome of the game. Those 7 Blocks headed off the blockheads. #block_lives_matter!
Which brings us to Hamilton and Leaf. Hamilton was the only Bruin who was “ON” in the first half, hitting 3 three’s and scoring 13 before the break, and 9 after. Leaf got the Bruins off to a hot start, with an awesome move for a slam dunk for the first basket of the game. The Bruins then jumped out to an 8-0 lead, and a 23-11 cushion, as the tight trojans missed 13 of their first 14 shots. But Figueroa Tech fought back gamely, making two strong runs late in the first half, cutting the deficit to only 3 at Halftime, and down to 1 soon after Intermission. That’s when Leaf turned up the juice on the Leaf-blower. Leaf scored 10 Points in the Second Half, for a total of 14 on the night. He also added an impressive FIVE ASSISTS, 6 Rebounds, and a Blocked Shot — a stat line that justified Bill Walton calling Leaf the best player on the floor tonight. Not that everything Walton says is gospel, but he may have nailed that one.
Speaking of Walton, ESPN is creating a monster. They are trying to appeal to casual Hoops fans, by fabricating a larger-than-life-personality — Over-the-top, colorful craziness. Even the bickering and banter between him and his broadcast partner are completely out-of-control, and obviously “scripted.” I don’t mean the actual words — just the concept. I am sure they are being “coached” and instructed to milk the conflict, in order to stir up controversy and water-cooler eye-rolling. They WANT these guys to be the story. They want another Vitale, who constantly steals the spotlight away from the actual game. ESPN is way out-of-line with their split-screen usage to imply that these ridiculous antics are of equal importance with the on-court action. However, they are just trying to gain more viewers, targeting the non-hardcore hoop junkies, who don’t mind missing plays because they are amused by the personalities. IT SUCKS for those of us who care about the game itself, but it’s financially motivated, and it’s the newer, modern style of putting entertainment above sport. So you better get used to it. It’s not going away, and neither are you.
Now, getting back to talking about the actual game… I’d LIKE to give some credit to u$c for fighting back repeatedly from double-digit deficits in this game. Even in the Second Half, they clawed their way back into it after falling down by 13 and looking like they were toast. But these clowns deserve NO SUCH CREDIT. Throughout the game, they showed nothing but LOW CLASS. Not only were they flopping like Blue Devils, but they were whining like little bitches over every foul call, including ones that were obviously the right call, like the one where replay showed them smacking Welsh’s arm on a shot. Bennie Boatwright was by far the biggest culprit. There were at least FOUR times where his histrionics were borderline-worthy of getting T-d up. He repeatedly and dramatically over-reacted to calls, making frustrated gestures and showing up the referees. That’s what made it so sweet when he was the one to miss the shot attempt that would have tied the game in the final minute.
And even worse than butthurt Boatwright, a trojan almost caused a fight, when Elijah Stewart tried to crash a Bruin time-out huddle!! It was so blatant, Bryce Alford got up and tried to confront him before being restrained. Talk about low-class, bush-league Clown College B.S.!! And talk about SWEET REVENGE: Stewart was the choker who blew the lay-up with less than 20 seconds left that would have cut the margin to one point, and then he fouled out seconds later, to watch the painful loss while his ass was planted on the bench.
Tomorrow night at 8:30pm, he will be watching on TV as UCLA takes on Arizona in the Semi-finals of the Tournament. Stewart is probably not done though, as sc is still likely to make the NCAA Tournament, despite not being deserving at all. And if they play like they did for most of Thursday night, they won’t make the Round of 32. Of course, if Bryce and Aaron play like they did on Thursday night, the Bruins won’t survive the Wildcats, which would leave them as a probable 3-seed in The Big Dance. Expect Bryce to scorch the nets, and Aaron to drive the lane, and Hamilton to come back to Earth, and expect a great game to see who faces Oregon in the Final. If the Bruins can pull off the Trifecta-in-3-nights, they could easily be looking at the elusive #1 Seed. But even if they lose to one of these Top 7 teams, I will still thank my lucky stars that it wasn’t the trogans who knocked us out. Hey — UCLA beat the condumbs in the Rubber Match!