He notched the first double-double of his career, was on the front end of the night’s two most memorable highlights and led UCLA’s final game-clinching push.
And yet sophomore guard Aaron Holiday still found a way to go mostly unnoticed in the aftermath of the No. 3-seeded Bruins’ (30-4) 97-80 win over the No. 14-seeded Kent State (22-14) Golden Flashes on Friday night, the attention mostly going to star freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.
Holiday’s performance, which included 15 points and a career-high 11 assists, didn’t go unnoticed by his coach though.
“He was just tremendous,” coach Steve Alford said of Holiday after the Bruins’ opening-round win in the NCAA Tournament. “His decision making today, I thought, was as good as it’s been in a long time.”
Holiday helped produce UCLA’s two most eye-catching plays in the first half, first finding Ball for a back-door alley-oop and then feeding Leaf minutes later for a thunderous transition dunk.
And in the second half, Holiday played a leading role as the Bruins finally ran away from the Golden Flashes down the stretch.
During UCLA’s remarkable streak of 12 straight made field goals, Holiday either scored or assisted on nine of the 12 baskets.
Holiday was aggressive throughout the night, using 28 percent of the Bruins’ possessions when he was on the floor, according to KenPom.com, his highest percentage since Feb. 12 against Oregon State.
But he played under control, turning the ball over just twice and making six of his nine shots. His assists weren’t overly flashy, mostly coming on simple but smart passes.
“He didn’t force things, he let the game come to him,” Alford said. “He finished when he needed to finish. He passed when he needed to pass.”
Holiday, who garnered Sixth Man of the Year honors from Bleacher Report this past week, is fifth on the team in scoring with 12.7 points per game. He also averages 4.4 assists, good for second on the team and fourth in the Pac-12.
Thanks to Holiday’s bench scoring, the Bruins were the only team in the conference with six players to average double-digit scoring figures.
“That’s one major advantage we have on teams is we have a lot of guys that can score,” junior center Thomas Welsh said. “Everyone that plays for us is a threat offensively. That’s really important for us.”