Even though many of the teams that these UCLA hoopsters beat were of the little-brothers-of-the-poor cupcake type – sacrificial lambs such as Oakland, Sacramento State, Chattanooga, and Nevada (with all due respect to those squads)…
You can’t argue this 8-0 start that the Bruins have to start Steve Alford’s first season in Westwood, the new coach accomplishing what the great John Wooden never did; win his first eight games as UCLA coach as Wooden won his first seven in his first year in L.A., way back in 1947.
Not that it wasn’t necessary to schedule these winnable games, because it was due to the fact that after ten years of the harsh totalitarianism of Ben Howland, Alford knew that his charges needed some confidence.
And these early games, during which the Bruins scored 100-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since 1999 – 106 against Chattanooga and 105 against Nevada – have provided exactly that.
Along with a solid ranking of 18th in the AP poll.
It became clear from the first tip-off against Drexel that the team has responded positively to Alford.
Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson have rapidly become the go-to guys, especially Adams as he has recovered from his broken foot, suffered against Arizona in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament, quite nicely in leading the Bruins in scoring with his 21.5 points a game.
Anderson is not far behind at 14 points per contest, and his 9.3 rebounds per game and 62 assists (7.6 a game) lead the team.
Alford’s top freshman recruit, Zach LaVine, has likewise been paying good dividends to this point as the guard’s 14.4 points a game ranks second to Adams.
And Norman Powell should get some props for his 12.3 points per contest average.
His overall numbers may not show it, and he has had some bad games – namely against Morehead State where he scored just two points and Northwestern in which he scored another two points on one-for-five shooting in just 12 minutes before fouling out – but Tony Parker has perhaps been the biggest beneficiary in the coaching change.
Parker was on the verge of leaving the team and going back to his home in Georgia due to suffering Howland’s wrath far too often and languishing on the bench, but Alford has given the center a fresh start, and he has responded with his 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The sophomore’s biggest success so far was his 21 points and 12 rebounds versus Oakland, and his 14 boards against Chattanooga wasn’t too shabby, either.
And his 66% shooting percentage leads UCLA.
It’s still a work in progress as Parker is not quite where he needs to be – he’s only shooting a worse-than-Dwight Howard-and-Shaq-put-together 33% from the free throw line – but he’s happily not where he used to be.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Parker progresses.
As for the rest of the team, let’s be honest…
Though it’s great that these Bruins have won their first eight games, they have not really been tested against top competition as of yet.
That first test will come on December 7, when they go to Columbia, MO to face the 7-0 Missouri Tigers, who will be looking to avenge the loss that they suffered at Pauley Pavilion last year.
A more significant test – and that’s an understatement – will come in New York’s Madison Square Garden in two weeks when UCLA will play 10th-ranked Duke.
With much regret, I do not expect the Bruins to win that game as I don’t feel that they are ready for the big-name programs as of this moment.
As such, I predict that Alford’s team will end their non-conference schedule with a very good 11-2 record before going to Pac-12 play, which will start with a doozy as…
They start with crosstown rival USC on January 5 before facing the team that’s not only favored to win the conference, but who also happens to be the #2 ranked team in the country:
The Arizona Wildcats on January 9.
Moreover, because of scheduling it will be the only time the Bruins will face U of A this year barring a possible clash in the Pac-12 Tournament in March, which means it will possibly be UCLA’s only chance at them.
Thanks goodness that the Arizona game is at home in Pauley, as will the ‘SC game before that.
At the end of the day, though these Bruins have had a good start, it will be very interesting to see how they continue to progress under their new coach.