It's very rare to see the combination of factors at play that we saw on Saturday night.
First, you had UCLA once again playing like a legitimate top 10 team, with exceptional ball movement on offense and very good shooting, and solidly above average effort and technical play on the defensive end. This was much closer to the non-conference version of UCLA than anything we've seen since, and that's a huge positive note from this game.
Second, you had Washington, which isn't good this year, playing like a team that is just going through the motions, looking clearly demoralized throughout the course of the game. You just typically don't see a conference team playing with such little pride against a ranked opponent on its home floor.
The end result was the second biggest blowout for UCLA this year, which was all the more impressive as it came on the second leg of a Pac-12 road trip, giving Steve Alford his second Pac-12 road sweep in his four years at UCLA -- and his second this season.
The much ballyhooed matchup between Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz might have been a wash if you were just looking at the box score after the fact, but it was pretty clear in game which one was having more of a consistent positive impact on his team. Ball was in control on both ends, flashing his usual excellence on the offensive end but also embracing his new role as the human turnover creator on defense. As Don MacLean said probably a dozen times on the broadcast, Ball very much seemed to embrace the moment, taking on the challenge of matching up with Fultz at times defensively, and then responding early in the second half when Fultz showed signs of life from three.
Fultz, for his part, looked disengaged from the proceedings from basically the opening tip. Obviously, Ball has a better team and a better supporting cast, but it was odd to see Fultz (and Washington as a whole) play with such little energy, and from the opening tip. It wasn't as if Washington started playing with low energy when UCLA went up 20; the Huskies were low energy from the jump. That kind of showing, in front of a packed house against a ranked team, is usually a sign that a coach is on his last legs. It will be very interesting to see what happens with Lorenzo Romar after this year.
So much of what UCLA was able to do started with Ball on both ends, but the Bruins also get excellent contributions from Bryce Alford. The senior guard played with good energy on the defensive end, which we always like to see, and also played within himself on the offensive end, and shot the ball very well after having a couple of slow games. He perfectly took advantage of Washington's godawful zone, setting up a couple of times for wide open threes where there wasn't a defender within 15 feet.
T.J. Leaf, after coming back alive against Washington State after a slow two week stretch, was great again against Washington, and was super efficient offensively. As we wrote after the Washington State game, he's almost as automatic from mid-range as Thomas Welsh, and he showed that off again. Washington's post play left a great deal to be desired, and if you match Leaf up against weak interior players, he's unstoppable. Between Ball, Alford, and Leaf, the Bruins scored 63 points on 37 shots, which is basically pure efficiency.
And that doesn't even include what Aaron Holiday brought to the table! This was vintage Holiday from the beginning of the year, coming in with minimal drop off from Ball. He scored and distributed the ball at a very high level, and played with exceptional energy on both ends. The biggest difference between the team that ran through the non-conference season and the team that has had a little bit tougher time of it in conference play has been the performance of Holiday and Isaac Hamilton. Hamilton has continued to be up and down (and he wasn't great on Saturday), but hopefully this game signals that Holiday is back to the quality he showed in non-conference play.
Welsh had a relatively quiet game, as he was dealing with some foul trouble and UCLA was lighting Washington up from so many other places on the floor. Welsh did uncharacteristically miss a couple of his baseline jumpers, but he did a nice job defensively. We would still love for him to attack the defensive glass a little bit better, but this was a fine, if quiet game from the big man. Gyorgy Goloman and Ike Anigbogu once again saw some time on the floor together, and we'd still like to see UCLA limit that combination as much as possible, since the offensive flow tends to die when they're both in. Anigbogu, after sitting out Wednesday's game with some soreness, played really well, and flashed some of the energy that he showed at the beginning of the year.
Defensively, UCLA has a great game plan for dealing with Fultz, giving him a ton of attention on ball screens and limiting lanes for him to split the double. Turning him purely into a perimeter shooter basically killed anything Washington wanted to do offensively, as so much of their offense is built on Fultz breaking into the lane and making something happen. The Bruins mixed and matched defenses early when the game was still in doubt, showing some 3/4 court pressure to burn clock, flashing some man, and also playing some considerable amount of zone to deal with Fultz. Washington has some talent, but they're so disorganized offensively that simply mixing defenses can absolutely flummox the Huskies. This was a very good game from Steve Alford.
This was a sneakily critical game for UCLA, and it's a silly thing to say after the Bruins beat the Huskies by 41 points, but the reality is that Seattle has been very tough for UCLA teams over the years, and some times it simply hasn't mattered how bad Washington is. Yes, UCLA caught Washington at a clear low point for the Huskies from a morale point of view, but the Bruins also very clearly brought a tremendous amount of energy to the game, which was great and very encouraging to see. For the first time in many weeks, UCLA's defensive efficiency rating actually improved substantially after the game (the Bruins are now up to 117th from 134th).
UCLA now gets Oregon this week, and if the Bruins win that one, the regular season could get pretty interesting again. While Arizona doesn't look like it has more than one more loss on the schedule, it's hard to predict how a team will react to getting beaten as badly as they were against Oregon on Saturday. If the Wildcats falter, and UCLA takes down Oregon this week, the Bruins could still have a really solid chance of at least splitting the regular season Pac-12 title.
But it all depends on Thursday, and with UCLA and Oregon both seeming to round back into form over the last week, it could end up being the same sort of game these two teams played to start Pac-12 play. And that would be fun to see.