NEW YORK — UCLA is 11 games into its basketball season, and this is what's known for sure: Bruins guard Kyle Anderson can spot a really good basketball player when he sees one.
Anderson said in the days leading up to Thursday night's game against Duke that he had seen Blue Devils star Jabari Parker play as he rose through the youth ranks on his way to becoming the top freshman in the nation.
"He's always been the best player on the floor," Anderson recalled.
Parker scored 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and, for good measure, chipped in five assists as eighth-ranked Duke ran away from UCLA in the second half for an 80-63 victory before a nationally televised audience and a crowd of 15,410 at Madison Square Garden.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Chicago — who is listed on several NBA draft projections as the likely top pick next year — came into the game averaging 22 points, so he did just a little better than par. But his performance left UCLA Coach Steve Alford reaching high into the pro ranks for a comparison.
"There's a lot of Melo in him as far as a guy who stretches to the three-point line, he can drive the basketball, he creates space off the dribble to create jump shots, and he can take you in the post," Alford said, referring to New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. "I just think he's a very talented, gifted player. You don't see a lot this polished 10-11 games into their freshman season."
Anthony was that polished, of course, which is how he led Syracuse to a national championship in his one season of college ball.
There's a lot of basketball to be played before we'll find out whether Parker can do the same, but Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski likes where the Blue Devils (9-2) are headed. "We're becoming a really good team right now," he said.
As for UCLA (9-2), well, the Bruins are a good first-half team. The second half? Not so much.
For the third consecutive game, UCLA couldn't finish a game the way it started.
Well, actually, check that. The Bruins started slow, making just two of their first 11 shots. But sparked by freshmen Bryce Alford — the coach's son — and Zach LaVine, UCLA turned a 10-point deficit into a six-point lead in the first half.
Duke managed to tie the score, 37-37, at halftime, and then it was all Blue Devils after that.
"Duke did a really good job of cranking things up and we didn't handle it very well," said Alford the coach, noting that the same thing happened to UCLA in a loss at Missouri and a win at home against Prairie View A&M.
Anderson, UCLA's sophomore point guard who was playing about a half-hour drive from his hometown, half-credited Duke and half-blamed the Bruins. "That's Duke's signature pressure defense," he said, "that's what they want to do. And we fell into it. Hopefully it's something we learn from."
UCLA came into the game ranked third in the nation in scoring, field-goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. And the Bruins sunk and sunk and sunk.
They were 26 points shy of their scoring average, more than 14 percentage points worse than they typically shoot, and had one more turnover than assist.
Alford wasn't too disappointed with the 13 turnovers against a Duke defense. What hurt more than the quantity, the coach said, was that most directly led to Blue Devils baskets.
"Our turnovers were bad," he said. "You don't want turnovers to lead to points, and ours led to easy points."
More than half of UCLA's turnovers came on steals by guard Quinn Cook, who had eight. Cook also had 14 points.
David Wear led UCLA with 16 points on six-for-seven shooting, including four of four from three-point range. Anderson had 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists but also six turnovers.
Jordan Adams, who came in averaging 21.2 points per game, was held to 10.
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