UCLA v. Sydney University (Photo: uclabruins.com)

First Glimpse of Bruin Hoopsters

Aug. 23 -- UCLA started its Australian tour with its first exhibition game early Tuesday morning, and while Chino Hills probably could have beaten Sydney University, it gave us our first glimpse of this year's Bruins...

The 2016-2017 UCLA basketball team beat a severely undermanned Sydney University team early Tuesday morning (PST), 123-76.

When we’ve said that you couldn’t take much from an exhibition game in previous seasons, this is the case here, but to the extreme.  Sydney University is the equivalent of a bad D-3 team. Chino Hills High School could have beaten them.

The Sydney University game did get you your first glimpse of UCLA, if you were inclined to be awake at 2:30 a.m. and watch.

If not, you didn’t miss much.

It’s clear that UCLA has a great deal of talent. The three freshmen  -- Lonzo BallT.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu -- add a huge amount of talent to the returning personnel from last season. 

Starting the game were Bryce AlfordAaron HolidayIsaac HamiltonGyorgy Goloman and Thomas Welsh, but with about 5 minutes gone the three freshmen entered the game as a group and brought a tremendous amount of energy to the floor. 

From then on, you couldn't really get any kind of sense of a player rotation, since it was mix-and-match for the next two hours or so.  Everyone played pretty substantial minutes, including sophomore post/forward Alex Olesinski

Going up against Sydney, what really stood out about the Bruins was their size and length. And even though it was far more pronounced since Sydney didn't have much size, it's definitely going to be a primary element of UCLA's team this season. Welsh at 7-0, Golomon at 6-10, Anigbogu at 6-9+, Leaf at 6-9 and Olesinski at probably 6-9 makes for five players in the possible rotation of nine over 6-9. Against Sydney it was the dominating force of this game, with UCLA's perimeter defense allowing many penetration dribbles by Sydney, but the Lions were either swatted away (18 blocks) or had their shots altered.  Anigbogu probably led the way on blocked shots. 

Of course, most eyes were on Ball, to see the much-heralded freshman in his first performance as a Bruin, but it wasn't an overly impressive one.  He hit a couple of threes, mostly that were forced, and played a great deal off the ball.  He had one really nice touch pass in transition to Leaf, who was streaking to his blindside.  He had a few alley oops thrown to him that he came close to converting, and he threw a couple himself that also weren't converted.  There's a great deal of street ball in Ball, which is kind of the style he's played in for a while, and he brought it to the game against Sydney.  He finished with 9 points. 

The second biggest curiosity of the game was probably how the point guard minutes would be distributed.  Alford, Holiday and Ball all took turns on the ball. It seemed very much like the point guard role is going to be a shared responsibility, not only from lineup to lineup but from possession to possession. There were times when a different player brought up the ball and a different player ran the offense, with probably Holiday functioning the most as a traditional point guard.  He had a few good moments as a distributor, in fact the most of anyone, with some nice penetration-and-dishes, looking a bit more refined, keeping his feet on the ground and using a bounce pass. Holiday, though, still had his out-of-control element to a degree when he took the ball to the basket himself, forcing some drives against the smaller Lions.

Alford was his same self, even though it appeared his role is going to be more off the ball, hunting for shots. He took the same type of threes he usually does, some good ones in the flow of the offense, and then some forced ones.

Once UCLA blew it open, it definitely had that AAU game feel to it, with UCLA trying to get out in transition and/or shoot threes, and the Lions relegated to shooting threes since they were getting swatted if they came close to the paint.

And if you're going to have an AAU-style game, you can't have much defense.  UCLA started out with some defensive organization, and there were a number of times UCLA's bigs hedged against a pick. Goloman looked good and quick doing it.  Like last year, Holiday worked hard with on-ball perimeter D, but the rest of the team didn't put in much.  

The freshman who did probably stand out was Leaf.  He played with some discipline on offense, not forcing drives and only a couple of threes (everyone did).  His combination of height and skill level was a difference-maker, being able to post up but also take his man off the dribble with ease, and then get out in transition.  He had one baseline step-through spin that was very impressive.  He led the team with 21 points and nine rebounds. 

Anigbogu is a real big body, at 6-9+ and 250, and he was a force blocking shots and rebounding. He actually showed some flashes offensively, but then also exhibited some rawness in his ability to finish around the basket. His 16 points were mainly from garbage and put-backs but he did benefit from a couple of nice Holiday drives and dishes to get a couple of nice dunks.  

Welsh carried the team offensively at the outset, hitting his first five shots -- a couple of short corner jumpers and a jumper from the elbow, but also a couple of jump hooks that looked better than last season. 

Hamilton looked like the same player he was when we last saw him. 

Goloman looked like he's more prepared to contribute this year, with a more refined offensive game inside and outside. He had a couple of moves on the block that looked far more polished, even though, again, you can't take much because there was guy 6-4 that was guarding him.

Olesinski, too, looked improved, with more confidence in his shot -- hitting one three and missing another. 

From what we hear, the next couple of games UCLA plays in Australia should be more competitive, with the Bruins going up against two pro teams, Melbourne United (Aug. 27th), and the Brisbane Bullets (Aug. 29th). There isn’t a plan as of now for either to be live streamed.

UCLA v. Sydney University Lions Box Score

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