By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., Nov. 24, 2016 – UCLA will be getting some help when they welcome 6-foot-10 freshman center Ike Anigbogu into the fold this weekend as he recovers from a knee injury.
That’s just another assist for the Bruins, who piled up one after another Thursday as they opened the Wooden Legacy with a record-setting 99-77 win over Portland in the opening round at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym.
The Bruins (5-0) matched their season best with 29 assists, a tournament record, as they cruised to victory in the event honoring legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. The 99 points equaled the tournament mark set in 2015 by Michigan State.
As Coach Steve Alford noted, six different Bruins supplied assists, but it’s no secret that the infusion of unselfish freshman guard Lonzo Ball is the catalyst. For the second time this season, Ball had 11 assists and scored 18 points. Oh, and he can shoot – he hit on 4 of 7 3-point attempts and is shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc this season.
“When you make 36 baskets and you’re assisting on 29 of them you can’t help but smile as a coach,” Alford said. “We had six guys get assists tonight so we’re a team that shares the ball. It becomes contagious. They built some trust with each other in Australia on the foreign trip. We’re only five games in so we’re a long way away and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We get Ike back tomorrow, so that will help our depth.”
The trust factor was built during a 10-day trip down under in August. The Bruins immediately latched onto Ball and his talents.
“If he’s learning anything, it’s that this team really trusts him,” Alford said. “It’s not your typical freshman that comes in and you’ve got two seniors like Isaac (Hamilton) and Bryce (Alford) and those guys are sitting back saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute freshman, this is our team.’
“That’s not how it is. Isaac and Bryce went to him in Australia and told him, ‘Do what you do. We need for you to do what you do.’ He’s built some confidence out of that and each game’s he’s gotten more confident. He’s a confident player to begin with, but when he gets rolling, it really helps what we’re doing at both ends.”
Junior center Thomas Walsh had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Hamilton had 16 as six Bruins scored in double figures. UCLA shot 54.5 percent for the game.
“It comes down to sustaining what we’ve done so far,” Welsh said. “The Australia trip helped us a lot coming together early and having a chance to get to know one another and getting a feel for playing with one another. It shows with our assist rate. We’re starting to figure each out more and more every game.”
It overwhelmed Portland (3-1), which did its best to stay with UCLA until the depth took over. But Pilots guard Jazz Johnson would never go away, scoring 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting.
UCLA’s next test comes Friday against Nebraska (4-0). Portland will take on Dayton in the second round.