A young UCLA team continues to grow up, and the Bruins may be hitting a growth spurt at just the right time.
Nearly written off just a couple weeks ago, UCLA has responded with three straight wins to jump back into the national conversation. First it was home victories over nationally ranked Utah and Colorado, but now the Bruins also have a significant road win after taking down Stanford 69-67 Thursday night.
Norman Powell had 20 points and Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford both added 18 in a game in which UCLA raced out to a 22-point lead and then had to hang on at the end. The Cardinal made a furious rally late and actually had a three-point attempt for the win at the buzzer, but Chasson Randle’s shot at the buzzer went off the glass and rim.
Interesting to note from Thursday was the relative quiet of one of the Bruins’ key freshmen. Kevon Looney was held to just five points, his second-lowest total of the season. Looney still finished with nine rebounds, though, and his scoring was replaced by Hamilton, who had his second-highest scoring game of the season.
A couple weeks ago the Bruins seemed to be almost assuredly an NIT team, if that. There is still work to do, but an NCAA Tournament bid is now a reasonable goal. The schedule is favorable down the stretch with five of the last seven regular season games at home.
As for Stanford, all season the Cardinal has had the feel of a team that is doing enough to be an NCAA tourney team but not necessarily much more. Back-to-back losses now to Washington State and UCLA only serve to confirm those thoughts at this point. Stanford is now 4-5 against top 100 teams, with its two best wins being against Texas and Wofford. The Cardinal is not in danger of missing the NCAAs yet, but there is now certainly more work to do as the season hits the home stretch.
- The game of the night coming in featured Cincinnati and SMU. The Bearcats attempted just 37 field goals but made 19 in posting a big 62-54 win on the road. Cincy sweeps the season series with the Mustangs, who continue to be highly inconsistent on the offensive end.
- Iowa needed an impressive performance in the worst way and got one Thursday. The Hawkeyes did what Wisconsin and Michigan State have been unable to do recently: hammer Michigan. Iowa made its move late in the first half and went on to an easy 72-54 win in Ann Arbor.
- Auburn has been hanging around of late against the SEC’s better teams, and the Tigers finally got one Thursday night, winning at LSU’s Tigers 81-77.
- Gonzaga trailed Santa Clara at halftime and for a time into the second half before reasserting its dominance inside for a 77-63 win. Also in the WCC, Pepperdine overcame a 16-point deficit to defeat BYU 80-74. The Waves sweep the season series with the Cougars and are making a case for being the second- or third-best team in the conference. Good things are happening in Malibu.
- Murray State’s streak continues. The Racers continue to be fantastic offensively, shooting 51.8% in an 82-72 win over SE Missouri State to win their 17th straight.
- Still streaking as well: Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane overcame a halftime deficit against Houston, allowing just 10 second half points in a 57-44 win. That’s 12 straight for Tulsa.
- One of the country’s biggest surprise teams is UC Davis, and the Aggies continue to soar after blowing out UC Irvine 75-56 on the road in a showdown for first in the Big West. Josh Ritchart scored 22 points and was 10 of 11 from the field. Long Beach State also remains tied for the top spot with Davis after defeating UC Riverside 68-63.
- Wofford continues to lead the Southern Conference and is now 19-5 after a 74-64 win over East Tennessee State. You’re not hearing much about the Terriers yet, but with an RPI of 47 and a win at N. C. State, this is a team that could have slim at-large hopes if needed in March.
- Western Kentucky now is in sole possession of first in Conference USA after a 65-59 win over North Texas. The Hilltoppers stand alone after UAB drilled Louisiana Tech 80-60, knocking the Bulldogs out of a first place tie and continuing the Blazers’ improbable run in conference play after a rough non-conference season.
- Georgia Southern continues to be the surprise leader in the Sun Belt, and the Eagles took down preseason favorite Georgia State 58-54 on Thursday, winning despite shooting an unsightly 28.6%.
- St. Francis (N.Y.) continues to hold the lead in the Northeast Conference after a comeback 90-81 win over Central Connecticut State. The Terriers are a game ahead of Bryant, which moved to 8-3 in the NEC with a 55-53 win over Mount St. Mary’s.
- North Dakota State is back atop the Summit League after defeating Nebraska-Omaha 64-57 while South Dakota State lost to IPFW 84-74. Keep an eye on the Mastodons, who have won four straight since an 82-53 debacle at SDSU a couple weeks ago.
- Eastern Washington pulled into a tie for first in the Big Sky with a 75-69 win at Montana. Drew Brandon scored a career-high 27 for the Eagles, who played without national leading scorer Tyler Harvey, who missed the game with a quadriceps injury.
- Kent State forward Jimmy Hall is going to be out for at least a week due to mononucleosis. Hall is the leading scorer (15.1 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg) for the Golden Flashes, who are still in the thick of the chase for the MAC East title despite losses in their last two games.
Dayton at George Washington (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Very important Atlantic 10 battle between two teams trying to position themselves as the top challenger to VCU.
Dartmouth at Yale (7 p.m. EST, CBSSN), Harvard at Brown Ivy League play continues, and these shape up as the two biggest ones on this night. Yale and Harvard are the frontrunners in the league so far, but both the Big Green (winners over the Crimson) and the Bears (victorious over Providence this year) are capable of pulling a surprise.
High Point at Coastal Carolina (9 p.m. EST, ESPNU), Charleston Southern at Radford The Big South has a heavy load on this Friday night as well. No less than SEVEN teams are within a game of first place in the league, including all four of these squads.
Siena at Iona (7 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Despite having an underwhelming season so far, you can’t count out the Saints, as proven by their win over Rider earlier this week.
Have a terrific Friday.