UCLA finishes strong to beat Texas A&M for the Wooden Legacy title
It won’t always be Showtime for this incarnation of the UCLA Bruins. Not all fastbreaks and deft passes.
There will be days like Sunday, when the game is more a struggle and the opponent has little interest in letting the Bruins run wild to some flashy highlight reel.
Still, these Bruins showed an ability to win a different kind of game against Texas A&M, grinding out a 74-67 victory at the Honda Center to capture the Wooden Legacy title.
The Aggies’ tall front line and more deliberate style of play gave the Bruins serious problems. A&M led UCLA by one with 3 minutes 28 seconds left to play. Suddenly, there was a very real threat to UCLA’s unbeaten season.
But the Bruins remained calm and went on a 7-0 run to take control, with Lonzo Ball — who had struggled with his shot early — dropping a key three-pointer. The Bruins, who had almost lived by their running game, found enough half-court game and tough defense to pull out the victory.
“With five minutes left to go in the game, these guys learned how to just go take the win,” said UCLA Coach Steve Alford. “That’s exciting. It’s exciting coaching a group of guys like that because we’re still a new team, but down the stretch they were terrific.”
The Bruins had problems most of the night with the big front line of Texas A&M (4-2). Tyler Davis, the Aggies’ 6-10 center, had 16 points and eight rebounds. Forward Tonny Trocha-Morales had 11 points and nine rebounds.
UCLA battled them underneath, contesting shots, but A&M liked where it was after a 6-0 run caught the Bruins with 5:32 to play.
“I thought the pace was where we wanted it to be,” said Aggies Coach Billy Kennedy. “We wanted to be in the low 70s.”
After the Aggies tied the score, Ball hit a huge three-point play to put UCLA back up by two. Then, after A&M tied it again with just over two minutes left, the Bruins went to work.
T.J. Leaf hit a jump hook to put UCLA up for good. Isaac Hamilton, whose 17 points in the first half had the Bruins up by one at the break, blocked a layup attempt by guard Admon Gil- der and rebounded the ball. Guard Bryce Alford, held without a point in the first half, nailed a three-pointer off an assist from Ball.
The defense now tightened, Alford stole the ball from Gilder, was fouled, made both free throws and the game was out of the Aggies’ reach with 37 seconds to play.
“Look at what happened during the course of the game,” Steve Alford said. “Isaac was on fire and in a groove in the first half. Bryce was scoreless in the first half, and then he makes some big shots and ends up with 13 for the game. That’s what we want.
“You know what, they’re unfazed. I think a year ago that might have fazed us to where we can’t come close to a win. I don’t think last year’s team could have won the Nebraska [semifinal] game.”
Ball, who made only one of his first seven shots, finished with 16 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, three blocks and was named the tournament most valuable player. Hamilton ended with 17 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought we had some bad possessions offensively, but a lot of that had to do with UCLA,” Kennedy said. “I was really impressed with their poise on the perimeter. We had a hard time guarding those guys.”
UCLA ended up outrebounding the Aggies (42-36), helping to overcome 15 turnovers.
“Tonight was another night where one guy does it for a while and then another guy does it for a while,” Steve Alford said. “We share it well.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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