Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hey, look, it's that one team

... oh, what's its name, give me a sec, it'll come to me.


Yeah. Those guys.

Wooden. Alcindor. Walton. Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. That UCLA.

It's been missing for a bit, and its fan base, as insufferable as any in the land, wasn't happy about it, even flew planes over campus last spring imploring the school to fire head coach Steve Alford. Even Alford got in on the act, writing a letter of apology to the fans for the Bruins' sub-.500 record last year.

Then he went back to work, recruiting a bunch of killer freshmen, freshmen he wasn't afraid to put out on the floor right from the jump. And Saturday afternoon, he turned them loose on No. 1 Kentucky, in Rupp Arena, where Kentucky loses about as often as Steve Alford hears a kindly word in Westwood these days.

The result: UCLA 97, Kentucky 92.

It was by far the harried Alford's most significant win at UCLA, and it vaulted the Bruins to 9-0, their best start in a decade. Alford arrived there to a distinct lack of enthusiasm -- even the Blob doubted the hire -- and, until last year, did just enough to keep the UCLA fans at bay. But at the risk of claiming what's been claimed too often, this is a different UCLA team. This is a UCLA team that just strapped 97 points on college basketball royalty, strapped 97 points on and physically dominated a team that hadn't lost on its home floor in 42 games.

This was not Steve Alford's UCLA we were looking at, or it least it seemed that way. This was your father's UCLA, or perhaps your grandfather's.

Yes, the Bruins are young, and, yes, Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are still freshmen, so, yes, they are going to have their non-senior moments. But for the first time in awhile, this was a UCLA team that looked as if it could play with anyone. This was a UCLA team that looked as if we could actually be talking about it again in March.

Which of course means the UCLA fan base is going to expect nothing less than a net-cutting on the first Monday in April.

And Alford thought last year was tough.

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