Ah Westwood. The halls of The House That Sam Gilbert Bought were ringing with joy just a few months ago. Sure, the fanbase is still a bunch of entitled whiners who compensate for their perpetual ugly step-sister status by clutching to tattered ill-gotten banners as if they were fresh Depends. But at least they were happy whiners, state of Depends thankfully unknown.
Coming off an unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen, the Baby Blues were eager to welcome the #5-ranked class featuring four new diaper dandies all ranked in the top ten at their respective positions. As a throw-in, they also cashed in their groupon for a spare Ball. One might say that the future was so bright, everyone affiliated with program was rushing out to grab shades…
In what should have been a coming out party for their shiny new toys, a trip to China was marred by one of UC Los Angeles’ darker traditions; ripping off someone else. When the dust settled, freshmen Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, and the Lousy Ball were detained for shoplifting. In China. Which we can only presume they did because the “urinate on a statue of Dear Leader” tour to North Korea was all booked up. Although the Oompa-Loompa-In-Chief immediately claimed credit for their subsequent release, noted CGB hoops expert, expat, and communist LeonPowe explained that Alibaba paid off the fines. Typically, foreign nationals are made to apologize and perform penance. Because we strive desperately to be worthy of our dear readers’ subscription fees, CGB risked it all to bring you a transcript of this apology. (We called it Operation Stardu…-glasses.)
“Dear Superior Beings. We are so, so, so sorry. Like sorry times ten and cross our hearts sorry. We had no idea that taking stuffs from your stores was so wrong. People give us stuffs all the time. And these are important people that own court side seats, too, so it must be okay. We now know that we should have let someone else steal the stuff so that we could buy it off the street and boost your local economy. They don’t teach us business at UCLA. Or math, or science, or english, or history. We can fingerpaint, but have been told that is not relevant to our situation. In our defense, we are not smart. Like dumber than UCLA-dumb, dumbness. Keep in mind, you can’t write “we all a bunch of dumb f***’s” without “u” “c” “l” “a”. We ask for your forgiveness and humbly accept our punishment to serve as Courtisants of Pleasure for the remainder of our time here.”
*Coverage of the subsequent events in China has been hidden behind CGB Platinum’s paywall. We have far too much editorial integrity to display content involving midgets and/or goat abuse.
In the weeks that followed, LiAngelo aka “The Sucky Ball” took his talents to Transylvania where he may very well be soon using the skills he learned as a Courtisant. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill have been suspended for the entire 2017-2018 season. Considering that Coach Alford has a distinguished history of suppressing rape allegations, it is likely that this decision was made by someone else within the athletic department who actually possesses a spine.
Off-court shenanigans notwithstanding, there’s a lot to like about the on-court product. They have a tough veteran running the point in Aaron Holiday and their front court is anchored by two senior stalwarts, Thomas Welsh and GG Goldman. Throw in a bunch of ridiculously talented youngsters plus one token stiff, and it’s a potent mix. If there’s a weakness, they lack backcourt depth, particularly at point. Earlier in the year, Holiday was noticeably fatigued at the end of the game against Michigan and his late mistakes contributed greatly to their loss. Conversely, it was noted that the decision to rest him in the 2nd half helped seal the upset over Kentucky. For the most part, UC Los Angeles has beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat while losing to higher-ranked foes; the one notable exception being the aforementioned upset over the Wildcats.
Following Coach Alford’s typical preferences, the Bruins are an uptempo team who are generally at their best when they can let their young bucks get out and run. In the half court, they’re very much a drive and kick team that relies heavily on Holiday to create looks. Defensively, they prefer man, but will use zone as a change of pace or when depth issues prevent them from matching up against an opposing backcourt. At New Mexico, Alford had his bigs hedge on screens, but has been deploying more of a pack line sagging man to man approach at UCLA. For those prone to over-penetrate, this defense will absolutely draw them to out-of-control drives into traffic. Fortunately, we are far too disciplined to have anyone that plays that way while taking over 30% of our shots. By design, they don’t force a lot of turnovers (thank Oski), but also tend to avoid foul trouble and have generally been solid on the defensive glass. To beat them, our guys will need to be patient, drive under control, and be willing and able to hit the open shot.
On paper, our odds are about as thin as Wyking Jones’ skin. For all the “give him the benefit of the doubt” and “we’re very young” talk, it mildly blows my mind that he’s already blocked Nick and Reef on twitter for being voices of reason. So, I can only imagine that he may drive to my house and set fire to my laptop as I am about as far from reasonable as he is from coherent schemes. (Kidding...mostly...kind of...) That being said, it would be incredibly irresponsible of me to write that he seems to be a thoroughly unpleasant jerk whose sordid past affiliations are question marks at best and who may very well be over his head. Fortunately, cooler minds prevail and know that this was going to be a season of growing pains even if the legendary Pete Newell crawled out of his grave to coach it. Whatever we might think of our head coach, the players have put in a ton of work to represent our alma mater and are highly deserving of our support. When in doubt, seek joy. And how can you not appreciate the effort displayed by cubs who don’t know enough to care that they had only a 1.8% chance to pull off the upset in the waning moments at the Farm...so THEY BY-OSKI GO AHEAD AND DO IT ANYWAY. Even though it’s a bad match-up for us, Kenpom says we have a 25% chance. Don Coleman ain’t scared. And neither should you.
G Aaron Holiday(Jr), 6’1, 185lbs, 18.8 ppg, 5.5apg, 36.6% 3FG
- Their do-everything engine. A bit more of a high-usage scorer than pure deep shooter, but he’s still very dangerous.
G Prince Ali(So), 6’3, 190lbs, 9.7 ppg, 45.9 3FG
- Freak athlete coming off a knee injury. A bit streaky; almost shoots better from 3 than from the charity stripe. (I can’t believe I managed to resist the low-hanging fruit here. Hangs in the air like a magic carpet. Hope he turns out to be merely Aladdin. Favorite son of Westwood, 2nd to none except Ber-ke-leyyyyyy. How can he run so fast. Except he never does pass. Can dunk on all yet still will he fall to Ber-ke-leyyyy. Yes, my shame is great.)
SF Kris Wilkes(Fr) 6’8, 195lbs, 12.5 ppg, 5.8rpg
- 5*, #5SF, McDonald’s All-American. More of a slasher than a shooter at this point in his career. Went off for a career-high 20 against Kentucky.
PF GG Goldman(Sr) 6’11, 225lbs, 7.2 ppg, 5.0rpg
- Fundamentally sound big that does the cliched dirty work and little things.
C Thomas Welsh(Sr) 7’0, 255lbs, 13.1 ppg, 10.9rpg, 1.2bpg, 40% 3FG
- Pac-12’s best pick n’ pop big decided to extend his range to 3. Although Holiday is clearly most important, Welsh might be their best all-around player
G Jaylen Hands(Fr) 6’3 175lbs, 12.8 ppg, 2.8apg, 4.2rpg, 47.9% 3FG
- 5*, #3PG, McDonald’s All-American. Panned by some entitled whiners as “not a true point guard” or “not Lonzo Ball,” the kid can flat-out shoot and will likely be quite hateable before his career is done.
F Chris Smith(Fr) 6’9 200lbs, 5.1 ppg
- 4*, #25SF, versatile pogo-stick known for his ability to defend 1-4. Can’t shoot worth a darn.
F Alex Olesinski(So) 6’10 200lbs, 5.0 ppg
- Token stiff only playing because of suspensions.
Keys to the Game:
1) Lee/Okoroh vs. Welsh/Goldman
Nightmare scenario: Savvy Bruin bigs induce Lee into two fouls within minutes. We spend the rest of the game watching Welsh drop jumpers from everywhere because Okoroh doesn’t feel comfortable on the perimeter and no one else is tall enough to bother his shot.
2) Coleman/McNeill vs. Holiday
Dream scenario: Coleman draws two early fouls on Holiday. Their offense stalls as they settle for contested jump shots. Their lack of backcourt depth is exposed as they don’t have anyone quick or experienced enough to check our guards. A unicorn gallops onto the court at halftime and carries away Wyking into the sunset. Steve Kerr comes out of the locker room as interim coach. “My other gig is pretty much on auto-pilot anyway.” The NCAA finally rules that Keary Colbert’s foot was out of bounds and retroactively awards Cal a conference championship and Rose Bowl berth.
3) Turnovers, Tempo, and Time to Man Up
Yes, the Bruins don’t force a lot of turnovers by design, but we’re awfully good at helping those TO% stats. Against an athletic team that loves to run, it’s the kiss of death.
As tempting as it might be to try to wear Holiday out with an up/down game, we’re just not at our best when we get sped up. Hopefully, our guards learned from the Portland State game that we have to take a more disciplined and deliberate approach to our offense.
Although we’ve had some sporadic success with our zone, this just isn’t the time. Welsh’s ability to hit jumpers is an absolute zone-killer as is the fact that they’ve simply got too many deep threats. Our point of attack defense has been shaky all year long, but that’s the womp rat we’ve got to bullseye if we’re going to frustrate Holliday and hope to slow down their offense.
4) Our guys against your guys
Stars be damned. The beauty of young bucks is that they don’t know what they don’t know. It does not matter that all the pundits rate their youngsters as clearly better than ours. The pundits can’t even touch their toes and they sure as heck ain’t lacing them up. If this game will be there for the taking, it’s because our young Bears play without fear and decide that to seize the opportunity by the throat.
5) Embrace variance
The numbers say we’re not a very good shooting team. Now, we might not be decidedly mediocre like San Diego State, but even the truest of Blues would admit that it’s not our strong suit. Remember all those games when we’d get to watch an opponent shoot the lights out? Maybe not, as there are so many to pick from this year. But ever wonder what it would feel like to have the shoe on the other foot? Let’s turn that worm and put all our hopes in a Powerball explosion of buckets. Tip-off: 3:30 pm PST, Saturday Jan 6, 2018, Haas Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Unless you have cable or satellite and live in the Bay Area in which case it’s likely blocked and you’ll get volleyball re-runs instead)