With all issues that have followed them off the court, starting with the arrests of three players for shoplifting in China and the never-ending Twitter feud between LaVar Ball and President Donald Trump, it might be easy to lose sight of the fact that UCLA is actually off to a pretty good start on the basketball court. The Bruins, who lost UC Irvine on Sunday, improved to 4-1 with a dramatic 72-70 victory over Wisconsin in the third-place game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday.
The Bruins have done so without three key freshmen newcomers in 6-10 forwards Jalen Hill and Cody Riley and 6-5 guard LiAngelo Ball, the younger brother of Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball who led the Bruins to a 31-5 record and the Sweet 16 last season. That trio remain suspended indefinitely for their shoplifting incident that brought the school negative international headlines. Still, there was reason to smile after the win over the Badgers, thanks to guard Aaron Holiday’s driving game-winning layup with 0.9 seconds left. “We’ve had a very difficult stretch, and we already, very early in the season, have a win over a Big Ten team and an ACC (63-60 over Georgia Tech) team,” UCLA coach Steve Alford told the Los Angeles Times. “We played a very good Big East team (a 100-89 loss to Creighton), so I‘m very proud of what our guys are doing. I think we’re growing.”
TV: 6 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT UC IRVINE (3-4): The Anteaters snapped a three-game losing streak with a 77-71 victory over winless Northern Arizona on Friday in the Las Vegas Invitational. Forward Tommy Rutherford leads the team in scoring (10.9) and is second in rebounding (5.6) while sophomore guard Evan Leonard is the only other player averaging in double digits (10.3). Jonathan Galloway, a 6-10 senior forward, who is the reigning Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, leads the team in rebounding (7.3) and blocks (2.0).
ABOUT UCLA (4-1): Holiday, younger brother of Jazz star Jrue Holiday, scored the final 10 points in the win over Wisconsin and leads the team in scoring (17.2) and assists (5.6). “We know what we’ve got in Aaron,” Alford told the L.A. Times. “... I’ve said it since I saw him in high school. He’s my pit bull. You just turn him loose.” Freshman guard Kris Wilkes (14.2), 7-foot senior center Thomas Welsh (13.2) and freshman point guard Jaylen Hands (12.0) also are averaging in double figures with Welsh also pulling down a team-leading 11.0 rebounds per game.
1. The win over Wisconsin was the 100th for Alford in Westwood. He now has a 485-252 record in 22 seasons as a head coach, including 100-46 at UCLA.
2. UCLA has already traveled 16,200 miles and spent over 31 combined hours in the air this season with back-and-forth trips from Los Angeles to Shanghai and Kansas City.
3. The Bruins leads the all-time series with UC Irvine 8-2 but needed overtime to defeat the Anteaters, 80-79, in the last meeting on Nov. 13, 2012 in Pauley Pavilion.
PREDICTION: UCLA 96, UC Irvine 69