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The Morning Dish – Monday, November 28, 2016

November 28, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

Last year wasn’t one to remember at UCLA. It’s as simple as that. At a program with 11 national championships, a 15-17 record that includes an 11th-place finish in the Pac-12 is simply not what is expected. It started early, but got even worse later on.

A year later, things look very different. The Bruins’ championship in the Wooden Legacy comes with a lot of signs that this year will be better, as they had certainly hoped.

UCLA was challenged by a Texas A&M team that is showing a lot of potential after losing four starters from a year ago. It was the kind of game you would hope for in a final, and it came down to the final minutes. That’s when this UCLA team did something last year’s team didn’t always do, which was make the big plays late and capitalize on opponents’ mistakes, as they finished the game on a 9-2 run to beat the Aggies 74-67.

Texas A&M actually had a 63-62 lead late in the game, but from that point on it was all Bruins. The Aggies turned the ball over several times and didn’t capitalize on opportunities, and UCLA made them pay each time.

The biggest difference with this team is Lonzo Ball, and it’s a big difference. The tournament MVP set a Wooden Legacy record for assists with 28 after scoring 16 points and handing out ten more assists. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 3.8, while he’s shooting over 57 percent from the field, a terrific figure for a guard. Speaking of which, the Bruins are shooting a sizzling 54.7 percent from the field thus far, including over 45 percent from deep. They are holding opponents below 41 percent at the defensive end.

The end result is that six Bruins average in double figures in scoring, led by another freshman, T.J. Leaf. Among those six, only Thomas Welsh shoots below 40 percent from long range, and that’s only because he hasn’t taken a three-pointer on the season. Welsh is nearly a double-double guy, averaging 9.4 rebounds per game.

A year ago at this time, UCLA was 3-3, and while there was no shame in losing to Monmouth or Kansas, a loss to rebuilding Wake Forest was a different story. Only one of those three wins was by double digits. Sunday’s win was the first of the season that was by a single-digit margin for the 7-0 Bruins, so UCLA fans can feel a lot more optimistic this time around based on the early returns. UCLA goes into the toughest part of the non-conference slate – a trip to Kentucky next Saturday, then Michigan comes to Westwood a week later and a meeting with Ohio State in Las Vegas comes another week later – with winning experience under their belt and some confidence.


Side Dishes

In other action at the Wooden Legacy, Virginia Tech used a big second half to take third place with a 66-53 win over Nebraska behind a near double-double from Zach LeDay (19 points, nine rebounds), Dayton took fifth place by topping New Mexico 64-57 and Portland took seventh place by closing out the night with a 96-78 win over Cal State-Northridge behind 36 points from Alex Wintering.

In the championship of the AdvoCare Invitational, Gonzaga appeared to be on their way to a convincing win. Iowa State had other ideas, though, as Deonte Burton & Co. rallied and made it a ballgame. Burton scored 21 of his game-high 29 points (he grabbed 12 rebounds as well) in the second half, and the Cyclones got within 70-69 late, but could never get the lead. Gonzaga was 13-25 on three-pointers, and that along with the early deficit was too much for Iowa State to overcome. Also in Orlando, Florida took third place with a 65-56 win over in-state rival Miami, Stanford beat Seton Hall 66-52 for fifth place, and Quinnipiac beat Indiana State 80-77 to take seventh place.

The Battle 4 Atlantis has quickly become one of the best early-season tournaments, and next year’s field was announced on Sunday. Arizona, NC State, Northern Iowa, Purdue, SMU, Tennessee, Villanova and Western Kentucky are slated to compete in 2017. All of those teams figure to be good, with Western Kentucky perhaps the least-known of the lot right now but one on the rise as they continue to win big recruiting battles of late.

It wasn’t a perfect day in the Pac-12 by a long shot. Oregon State forward Tres Tinkle suffered a broken bone in his non-shooting wrist on Friday night, and a CT scan will be done on Monday to determine the severity. The worst case scenario is that he would need surgery if there is ligament damage, which could put him out of action for about two months. Tinkle had a career-high 31 points in the loss to Fresno State before suffering the injury, and the Beavers are already without Stephen Thompson and Ben Kone due to injuries.

Most non-tournament games featuring big-name teams ended up in blowouts, whether it was Indiana running away from Mississippi Valley State or Wisconsin nearly scoring enough in the first half to blow out Prairie View A&M 95-50. USC improved to 6-0 with a 96-72 blowout of UC Santa Barbara, who is off to an unusual 0-5 start.


Tonight’s Menu

With the tournaments mostly behind us, it’s a lighter slate this evening.

  • The ACC/Big Ten Challenge gets underway tonight with Minnesota at Florida State and Wake Forest at Northwestern.
  • Kentucky heads west to take on Arizona State in Tempe.
  • Utah hosts Butler in a nice matchup.
  • Another Pac-12 team in action at home is Oregon, who hosts Boise State in a late game.

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