By Phil Collin
Anaheim, Calif., November 28, 2016 – UCLA went to the Wooden Legacy with high hopes for developing a championship-caliber team and not only took giant strides in that direction, they took a slice of a legacy back to Westwood.
The Bruins’ 74-67 victory over Texas A&M gave them a tournament title in the event memorializing their legendary coach and at the same time, confirmed to themselves that they don’t have to run up and down the court and simply outscore opponents in order to win a game.
They slugged it out with the physical Aggies, took some shots but didn’t stagger, and learned they can win even when they’re finding difficulty imposing their will on the opponent. And they emerged with a trophy that they hope is as much a basis for their season as Coach John Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success.
“That was pivotal for us,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “It’s the first championship, this team’s going through it for the first time this season. A year ago that might have fazed us to where we can’t come close to win. I don’t think last year’s team could have won the Nebraska game (in the semifinals), couldn’t have won this game, so that’s progress.”
Win or lose, that’s basically how each of the other seven teams in the tournament came out of the three-game, four-day test.
After Portland topped Cal State Northridge to salvage seventh place in the tournament, first-year Coach Terry Porter came to probably the most logical conclusion about his team. Porter had seen guards Alec Wintering (80 points in three games) and Jazz Johnson (68) tear through opponents on the dribble and from deep range.
“I foresee them really being some of our main scorers,” Porter said. “We have an opportunity to really take advantage of their skillset. So I see going forward them being our leading scorers for the most part. We really try to get those guys in pick-n-roll situations and really take advantage of other perimeters and allow those guys to really play downhill in pick-and-rolls.”
After six games, Wintering is averaging 22.8 points per game and Johnson 18.5. Johnson is shooting 54.8 percent from the field, Wintering is a shot below 50 percent and the duo has made 45 of 49 free throws (91.8 percent). West Coast Conference, you’re on alert.
Virginia Tech outlasted Nebraska to capture third place in the tournament and forward Zach LeDay, an all-tournament selection, emerged as the Hokies’ offensive aggressor. His role as a reserve might have to be reconsidered.
In any case, the senior has also become a team leader two years after transferring from South Florida.
“We’ve been together through war,” LeDay said. “Our first year, we won two conference games. The second year we lost our second game. We’ve been through struggles, but we grind. (Friday) we were up 20 and blew it. But we come together and it helps. We play for each other. We play for winning.”
A year from now, the Wooden Legacy field will be St. Joseph’s, Georgia, DePaul, Harvard, Saint Mary’s, Washington State, San Diego State and Cal State Fullerton.