Team of the Week: UCLA
UCLA struggled through the early parts of the season. There was the loss to Cal Poly. There were the struggles in their marquee matchups. There was out of shape Shabazz Muhammad. There were the transfers and the freshmen wanting more playing. There were the massive question marks on the defensive end of the floor. There was the speculation that Ben Howland’s job could be on the line. But on Friday night, the Bruins eased the minds, for now, of the fans in Westwood as they knocked of then-No. 7 Missouri in overtime in Pauley Pavilion, 97-94.
It’s a win that has a chance to be season-changing for the Bruins. This is not the same kind of UCLA team that we are used to seeing under Howland. They are never going to be good defensively. They can, however, score points in bunches with a lethal transition attack. It’s nice to see Howland embracing their strengths. This doesn’t mean that UCLA is back amongst the elite — they are really, really bad defensively (especially against the pick-and-roll) and Missouri has some issues of their own — but this was a statement win for the Bruins. It’s too early to write this team off, not with the amount of talent that they have on the roster.
Seven more teams deserving of a shoutout:
Arizona: Is it time to start taking Arizona seriously as one of the nation’s elite teams? They are 12-0 for the first time since 1987-1988, currently own wins over Florida and San Diego State and are only going to get better as their trio of freshmen bigs continue to improve. I’m still concerned about Mark Lyons at the point, but guys like Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Nick Johnson have stepped up as facilitators while Lyons has proven capable of taking, and making, big shots in big moments. And in the end, that’s why Sean Miller brought him in.
Harvard: The best news for Harvard wasn’t the fact that they went into Berkeley on Saturday evening and left with a win over Cal. That’s impressive, even if this Cal team isn’t necessarily one of the Pac-12’s elite. The Crimson weren’t supposed to be great this year, not with Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry sitting the season. No, the best news wasn’t that an Ivy League team went into a Pac-12 team’s house and won, it’s that they were able to do so when their stud freshman, point guard Siyani Chambers, shot 2-15 from the floor.
Louisville: The Cardinals got the win that they desperately needed aginst Kentucky on Saturday. Big Blue has dominated that rivalry in recent years. They had won the four matchups since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, including last season in the Final Four, and are coming off of a national title. With Louisville looking like a national title favorite and the Wildcats struggling this year, a loss by Louisville could have been crushing for the fan base.
New Mexico: The Lobos bounced back from a tough home loss to South Dakota State by going into Cincinnati and knocking the Bearcats from the ranks of the unbeaten, earning themselves a marquee win to hang their hat on this season.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels picked up a much-needed victory on Saturday when they knocked off visiting UNLV 79-73. UNC has been underwhelming this season, and given the fact that they were missing their second-leading scorer in Reggie Bullock, few gave the Heels a chance in this one. But the Heels ended up dominating the Rebels in the first half, hanging on down the stretch when Dave Rice’s club made a run.
Valparaiso: The Crusaders went into Murray and knocked off Isaiah Canaan’s Racer squad. Ryan Broekhoff led the way with 18 points and eight boards.
Wichita State: The Shockers are crippled by injuries right now, which includes leading scorer and rebounder Carl Hall, but they still managed to smackdown league rival Northern Iowa on Sunday.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.