All good things must come to an end and so for the Bruins the season is finished. One of UCLA (31-5) basketball’s most entertaining season’s, came to its conclusion falling to No.2 Kentucky (32-5), 86-75. The Bruins didn’t play up to their standards and you’re to going to beat the Wildcats if not at your best.
UCLA shot the ball well, but when they made breaks on the defensive end for some odd reason, they weren’t able to convert into points. There was one stretch in the first half when the Bruins didn’t get one shot off, five straight times down the floor.
The Bruins finished the game hitting 52.7 percent from the field, but their 13 turnovers leading to 14 Wildcat points was too much for UCLA to overcome. In contrast, UCLA only scored two points off of turnovers. Kentucky also outscored the Bruins 15-8 on second chance points.
“Well, we knew it was a tough draw,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “Somebody that was really good wasn't going to win this game in advance. I'm just really proud of our basketball team.”
Alford had all the reason in the world to be proud of this group of young men. This UCLA team never quit. They played hard every game. There is a reason Bruin basketball became one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles this season.
Not only was it a fun brand of basketball to watch, but the players were highly likable.
“I've been in the locker room telling them that, that I've been doing this 26 years, and to have a group of young men, and it starts obviously with my two seniors that have just had brilliant careers, not just on the court, but how they've grown as young men, which is what the college experience is supposed to be all about,” Alford said. “What they've done for us in the community, what they've done in the classroom, how they've represented UCLA in every way, shape or form has been magnificent.”
“I really think these two seniors, and then the team as a whole have taken us coaches -- sometimes there's coaches that maybe can take a group of young men on a journey that's fun. This year was definitely a group of young men that took coaches for a great journey. We started blending this thing back in June, coming off a tough year last year after two Sweet 16s, and to get back to the Sweet 16 and win 31 games, I told the guys, that was one thing, and obviously winning is fun, but how we went about it was remarkable. The character on this team, how they were as teammates, the unselfishness was so fun to watch. They were so fun to coach.”
“As fans, there's 36 times fans got to watch this group. I got to watch it every day for about 100 practices. I'm very, very blessed that I had that opportunity because it was a blast watching these young men compete and improve and get better, and we just got beat by a very good team that played very, very well tonight.”
Kentucky indeed played well tonight propelled by the play of their two outstanding freshmen guards, De’Aaron Fox who had a career and game high 39 points and Malik Monk added 21 points. Senior guard, Dominique Hawkins scored 11 points and between the three scored 71 of Kentucky’s 86 points.
The Bruins had four players score in double figures. Isaac Hamilton had an outstanding final game as a Bruin scoring 17 points to tie TJ Leaf for the team lead. Senior Bryce Alford had 13 in his final game and Lonzo Ball scored 10.
One of the biggest topics that has been hovering over UCLA the entire tournament was the rumor that Alford would leave the Bruin program to coach at his alma mater Indiana.
Alford was asked about his future during the post-game presser.
“I talked about that last week,” Alford said. “Our guys have been very focused. I've been very focused. I said it last week, and I'll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles. To begin with, it's a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I've got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he's graduating from UCLA, so I've got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she's going to in Thousand Oaks. I'm very happy. I'm at UCLA. I don't know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.”
“This is a pretty special place. We've worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We've got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We're opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we've worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we've got some special kids that are coming to join us.”
“I'm very, very happy where I'm at, and hopefully that'll continue.”