Battle of star freshmen goes as advertised, but UCLA’s Ball gets more support
In the days leading up to the most hyped individual matchup of freshmen in the Pac-12 Conference in years, Lonzo Ball insisted that what he did against Markelle Fultz shouldn’t be the primary talking point.
“People are going to say what they want,” Ball said of the battle involving the players who could be the top two picks in the NBA draft four months from now. “I’ll go out there and play UCLA versus Washington.”
The Bruins freshman point guard was on to something. A supporting cast matters.
With Ball and Washington’s Fultz largely canceling each other out with their brilliance, it was Ball’s teammates who made the difference as the No. 11 Bruins obliterated the Huskies, 107-66, in a game played with nearly two dozen NBA executives in attendance at Alaska Airlines Arena.
There was TJ Leaf, countering the best efforts of Washington’s zone defense with jumpers and drives to the basket. There was Bryce Alford, making three-pointers to help extend a burgeoning lead. And there was Aaron Holiday, flipping in a layup off the glass in the final seconds of the first half, punctuating his basket by yelling “And one!” so loudly that it could be heard all the way across the arena.
UCLA (21-3 overall, 8-3 Pac-12) was the team making most of the statements. Several were expressed by Ball, who blocked a Fultz jumper early in the game and then outmaneuvered his counterpart for a layup. Fultz responded later in the half with a three-pointer over Ball’s outstretched arm, part of his 12 first-half points. The problem was that none of his teammates had more than six.
It was a trend that held up.
Fultz finished with 25 points on nine-for-19 shooting but was joined in double figures scoring only by forward Noah Dickerson, who had 10 points against what UCLA Coach Steve Alford called his team’s best defensive effort of the season. The Bruins held the Huskies to 38.5% shooting, including 25.9% from three-point range.
“Just focus,” Ball said of his team’s defensive efforts. “We know what time of year it is and we’ve got to get ready for March.”
Ball led the Bruins with 22 points on seven-for-12 shooting to go with his six rebounds and five assists. There was no shortage of support as Bryce Alford added 21 points and Leaf and Holiday had 20 apiece to turn Washington’s first home sellout in five seasons into a nonevent. Fans started streaming toward the exits with about 12 minutes left and UCLA leading by 34 points.
“We had a lot of guys play well tonight,” Steve Alford said. “I liked how we attacked the zone inside-out. We didn’t stand, we had good movement like we normally have against man-to-man [defense]. But the big difference was our defense. It was by far our best.”
Garbage time belonged to UCLA fans, who broke out an eight-clap in one corner of the arena. Steve Alford inserted a couple of seldom-used reserves with 21/2 minutes left and his team leading by 42 points.
Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar had said before the game it was the most anticipated matchup involving a Huskies player since Isaiah Thomas faced James Harden in 2009 and Brandon Roy had gone up against Adam Morrison several years before that.
One of the more entertaining sequences came early in the second half when Ball made a three-point basket, Fultz countered with one and then Ball continued the long-range fun with another three-pointer.
The Bruins made their first five three-pointers after halftime and finished the game making 11 of 24 shots from long range while shooting 60.6% overall.
“If you were with us the last two days, it’s the same Lonzo each and every day,” Steve Alford said. “Lonzo just does what Lonzo does, and that’s prepare his team the best he can and do the things that he does to make everybody else better, and he made a lot of guys better tonight.
“He beats you with his defense, he beats you with his ability to create for himself, he creates for others and then we forget about him and he makes two or three threes in a row.”
Ball versus Fultz was the main story line, though there were other intriguing subplots.
UCLA notched its 21st victory on the fourth day of February, the earliest it has ever done that. Washington (9-14, 2-9) fell a season-worst five games below .500.
Bruins forward Ike Anigbogu returned from a one-game absence after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired right knee and announced his presence late in the first half when he snagged an alley-oop pass from Ball for a ferocious dunk.
Thursday vs. No. 13 Oregon, 7 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, ESPN — UCLA’s slim hopes of winning the Pac-12 title would get a boost with a victory over Oregon in a rematch of the conference opener won by the Ducks on Dillon Brooks’ three-pointer in the final second.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.