At this time last year, UCLA men’s basketball was near the bottom of the conference standings.
One year later and the No. 3 Bruins (18-1, 5-1 Pac-12) are one of the top teams in the nation, and will face the Arizona State Sun Devils (9-9, 2-3) Thursday evening.
The secret to the Bruins’ success isn’t a secret – it’s their fast-paced offense.
They rank second nationally in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, and third in points per game, but coach Steve Alford said the team has the potential to be even better.
“All eight of our guys – well not all eight – but six of the eight are definitely guys that are very comfortable shooting a 3,” Alford said.
The two outliers to his fleet of confident 3-point shooters are freshman forward/center Ike Anigbogu and junior center Thomas Welsh, who Alford says are both working to get comfortable shooting beyond the arc.
But there’s one Bruin big who has no problem with that.
Freshman forward T.J. Leaf has been consistently knocking down his shot, shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range.
“When someone on an opposing team has to scout a big man who can also step out and shoot 3s, it makes the team a lot more versatile, and it makes the team a lot harder to guard,” Leaf said.
The 6-foot-10 forward also stretches the floor for his teammates, which allows them to have better looks at the basket.
Senior Bryce Alford and sophomore Aaron Holiday both have higher 3-point shooting percentages than they finished with last year – Bryce Alford by more than .100.
With the attention set on freshman guard Lonzo Ball, Alford and Holiday have also improved their field goal percentage by 12 and 10 percent respectively.
This specific combination of players allowed the Bruins to elevate their game and secure their first conference road sweep in the Steve Alford-era this weekend.
“When you have guys like Lonzo and Aaron who are so fast with the ball and can push it so hard, and then you gotta have guards that can run, and then a big like T.J. who can get it and run by himself,” Bryce Alford said. “It’s very personnel-driven to have this style, and you need the right players to do it.”
UCLA has a 10-game home winning streak heading into Thursday’s game, and could also have their first 19-1 start since 1992 with a win over Arizona State.