Holiday stars as UCLA holds off Stanford to advance in the Pac-12 tournament
The question left Steve Alford unable to stifle a laugh.
Would the UCLA coach consider letting do-everything guard Aaron Holiday rest for a minute or two during a game?
“We’ve had some discussions on the bench that are almost comical,” Alford said. “Those assistants look at me and, if they do say anything, I just give them that look like ‘You’re kidding me, right?’ I’m not about to take this guy out.’”
The coach had good reason for the sentiment after Holiday’s performance in the Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal against Stanford on Thursday.
Holiday played all 40 minutes — and scored 34 points for the second consecutive game — as the Bruins defeated the Cardinal 88-77 at T-Mobile Arena to bolster their postseason resume.
The junior, as usual, shrugged off his latest highlight in a season packed with them.
“I’m a little tired, obviously, playing that many minutes,” said Holiday, who added eight assists and seven rebounds. “But I’ve been here before, so it’s no big deal.”
The victory in front of 15,182 fans meant more than the low-key words revealed. UCLA (21-10), which plays Arizona in the semifinals Friday, solidified its position to make the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in the last six years.
Even before Thursday’s game, one website that tracks 80 major bracket projections found 76 of them predicted UCLA would be in the tournament. The bigger question appears to be what seed the Bruins will receive, rather than if they’ll make it.
Holiday made certain UCLA wouldn’t suffer an untimely letdown against Stanford (18-15), losers to Long Beach State and Eastern Washington during an erratic season.
An early foul didn’t bother him. Neither did a series of layups that inexplicably rimmed out. Instead, the Pac-12’s leading scorer kept Stanford at bay each time it made a run.
The Cardinal never found an answer for Holiday, never led and managed to tie the score for all of 42 seconds.
“They’re a hard team for anybody to guard,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “He’s arguably the best point guard in the country and he played like it today.”
Holiday, though, helped push the game out of reach in the final three and a half minutes. He drove to the basket — virtually untouched — for a two-handed dunk. He sank a three-pointer. He made three free throws. He didn’t take a break, or even look like he needed one.
The projected first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft has played all 40 minutes in four of UCLA’s last five games. That included the regular-season finale against USC five days ago when Holiday scored 34 points to key the Bruins’ victory. In total, he has played 40 minutes or more 11 times this season.
About the only thing he hasn’t done is play 40 minutes on back-to-back days. That probably will change against Arizona. Not that Holiday or anyone else around UCLA thinks it will be a problem.
“I have incredible trust in him and he’s a warrior,” Alford said. “To me, he could play 50 minutes.”
As the final seconds ticked away, Holiday held his mouth guard in one hand and sucked in big breaths. He needs to be on the court if UCLA is going to extend its season deep into March once again. But Holiday didn’t look tired. He looked ready.
Friday vs. Arizona, 6 p.m., T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. TV: Pac-12 Networks – UCLA beat Arizona 82-74 last month, the only meeting between the teams this season.
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