What a difference one game can make in a season.
Just over a week ago, UCLA was losing to Wake Forest in the Maui Invitational for its second loss in two days. Just under three weeks ago, the Bruins lost at home to Monmouth in their season opener in what will go down as one of the upsets of the season given its unknown-slaying-blueblood storyline, even as we’ve come to see the Hawks are a pretty darn good team themselves.
After last night, though, UCLA now holds one of the true trump cards for NCAA Tournament resumes that any team will hold all season. The Bruins upended No. 1-ranked Kentucky 87-77, leading almost the entire way and snapping the Wildcats’ 38-game regular season winning streak.
UCLA played just seven players in this game, but all seven contributed significantly. Thomas Welsh had 21 points and 11 rebounds. All five starters scored in double figures, while reserves Jonah Bolden and Prince Ali combined for 15 points. This was a textbook case of an entire team stepping up to accomplish something few anticipated.
Kentucky shot just 37.9% for the night and dealt with heavy foul trouble all game. Isaiah Briscoe was excellent again with 20 points but the rest of the team combined to shoot 18 of 56, barely 32%. Skal Labissiere in particular was nearly invisible-six points and one rebound in 16 minutes-showing once again that no matter how touted the freshman, there is no guarantee of night-in, night-out domination. The Wildcats also lost Marcus Lee to a head injury in the first half and he did not return.
Of course, there’s also the not-so-little matter of UCLA avenging a miserable result against the Wildcats last year. Kentucky famously led the Bruins 41-7 at halftime less than 12 months ago en route to an 83-44 win.
Whether UCLA can sustain this all season is another matter entirely. But for one night we saw once again that magic still happens in a place where so much has happened before.
- Valparaiso and Belmont began a December non-conference home-and-home with the Crusaders holding on for a 61-57 victory. Alec Peters scored 17 points and Valpo won despite shooting just 35.4%.
- Long Beach State earned a quality road win, defeating Colorado State 83-77 at Moby Arena. Nick Faust scored a career-high 27 points.
- Louisiana-Monroe upended Louisiana-Lafayette 81-70 behind 30 points from Majok Deng, who continues to develop nicely in his senior year and far ouplayed the more heralded Shawn Long for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who had 10 points and eight boards.
- USC earned a solid road win, closing on a 14-4 run to take down UC Santa Barbara 75-63 at the Thunderdome.
- Dan Majerle’s Grand Canyon team improved to 6-0 with a 75-72 win over Central Michigan. The Antelopes are still ineligible for an NCAA Tournament for a couple more years but continue to build a nice D-I program.
- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim heard back from the NCAA on Thursday and found out that his nine-game suspension as part of the school’s probation has been upheld. The one catch is that the suspension will kick in immediately and not with the start of ACC play. That means Boeheim will miss Saturday’s game against Georgetown, though he will return to conference play considerably sooner than first expected.
- BYU freshman guard Nick Emery will be suspended one game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor in their heated game Wednesday night. He was ejected from the game for the punch and the ejection carries an automatic one-game suspension. Emery will miss the Cougars’ game Saturday against Weber State, a dangerous one for BYU.
Tonight’s menu: A fairly quiet Friday night in December
- The best game is the latest one as Oregon is in Vegas to play UNLV (11 p.m. EST, ESPN2) for what should be some high-octane fun.
- Interesting game for Pittsburgh, as the Panthers have to face city rival Duquesne on the road (6 p.m., CBSSN). The Panthers are on the rebound after a tough loss to Purdue, and the Dukes have enough offense to make this one difficult.
- Undefeated Northern Illinois gets its toughest test when the Huskies go on the road to face Missouri.
- The MAAC begins league play in earnest with five games. Monmouth has a tough road trip as it heads to Buffalo to face Canisius, while
- Manhattan is at Siena in a contest that has two teams who have had ups and downs early but it would be no surprise if they’re in the thick at the end of the year.
- Saint Joseph’s is at Columbia in a game with some star power with Deandre Bembry and Isaiah Miles against Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg.
- Out west, UC Davis is at unbeaten St. Mary’s and UC Irvine goes to former Big West rival Pacific.
Enjoy your Friday and have a great weekend. Remember: 20 shopping days left until Christmas.