UCLA pulled off the biggest upset of the young season as they took down the Kentucky Wildcats in front of a packed house at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins played with passion from the start and exposed a few flaws in UK’s mighty armor.
Now, the Bruins look to build momentum before heading into conference play, while the ‘Cats try to regroup. Here are a few observations from last night:
FINAL SCORE: UCLA 87, (1) Kentucky 77
PTS: Thomas Welsh – 21 | REBS: Welsh – 11 | ASTS: Tyler Ulis – 9
Top DOG of the Night: Thomas Welsh (21 points, 11 rebounds, 8-11 from the field)
“Drive, Kick, Repeat”
UK’s lack of offensive creativity is going to result in a LOT of barn burners this season. Coach John Calipari likes going with the best talent on floor at the same time, not always according to need. It just so happens that this year, the ‘Cats are led by a three-guard attack with Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray in starring roles.
It’s a very talented trio but starting all three of them together proved to be a challenge v. a UCLA squad adept at shutting down driving lanes and forcing action back out to the perimeter. UK did a poor job of countering, as Ulis, Briscoe, and Murray took turns driving the lane and kicking it back out for difficult jumpers.
Over and over and over…
Briscoe (20 pts), no surprise, was the main one who consistently tried to finish at the rim. Murray and Ulis (played through an elbow injury) could not figure out which seams to burst through in the zone. Murray got hot from long range late in the second half (hit 3 triples in the span of 3 minutes) but UCLA already built a strong advantage.
Now, the ‘Cats definitely missed Marcus Lee, who was forced out of the game due to an injury in the first half. That said, their predictable, guard-driven offense only yielded 38% shooting and 12 total assists.
On the road, versus a proud UCLA squad in a hostile environment, that effort won’t cut it.
“A Star is Born?”
In a game featuring Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere, Tyler Ulis and Bryce Alford, you’d figure one of them would turn heads or be the determining factor of the final score.
Well, about that…
UCLA’s Thomas Welsh, a sophomore pivot from Redondo Beach, got loose v. UK, tallied 21 points & 11 boards, and earned Top DOG of the Night honors. Steve Alford’s Bruins got help from a variety of sources, including Alford (15 pts, 4 asts), Isaac Hamilton (15 pts), Aaron Holiday (10 pts; FR., Jrue & Justin’s younger brother), Tony Parker (11 pts), & Prince Ali (8 pts, MONSTER DUNK on Alex Poythress) on the way to 52% shooting on the night.
It was due in large part to Welsh, who commanded UK’s attention once he started opening up the floor with his pick & pop, midrange J. The two-man game between he and Alford (sometimes Holiday & Hamilton) proved unstoppable around the FT line. And on defense, Welsh used his 7-foot frame to deter star freshman Skal Labissiere at the basket.
Welsh’s emergence could make the Bruins a LOT scarier in the Pac-12. He gives them a nice mid-post option v. the likes of Cal’s Ivan Rabb, SC’s Nikola Jovanovic, Utah’s Jakob Poetl & UW’s Josh Hawkinson.
If Alford, Hamilton and Holiday continue to penetrate and create opportunities, Welsh’s stock will keep rising.
An underrated aspect of Coach Cal’s job is how he is able to adapt to a static roster year in and year out. This season, without Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Dakari Johnson, the ‘Cats are forced to play further away from the basket and do not have a true post presence/inside scorer yet.
Freshman Skal Labissiere seems a tad behind the learning curve, as he appeared lost throughout last night’s contest. On offense, Skal did not aggressively fight for positioning or make quick moves when he ended up with the rock.
And on D, he committed silly fouls by dropping his hands in the paint (instead of remaining upright) and did not hustle for 50-50 balls. Lack of toughness is already an issue that needs correction.
Marcus Lee is more of a P&R finisher/lob catcher, Alex Poythress is more of an energy guy and Derek Willis prefers shooting long J’s (which he can hit), so both Labissiere and even Isaac Humphries have to assert themselves on the interior.
Labissiere has the raw skills to dominate both inside and out. It generally takes UK freshmen until the turn of the new year to fully embrace their role.
If Skal can assume his place as offensive leader, the game will be a lot easier on Ulis, Briscoe and Murray.