After an excruciating melt down loss to USC, Colorado looks to knock off UCLA to pick up a key road win. UCLA has fallen off since last year's Sweet Sixteen appearance, but this won't be an easy game for the Buffs.
UCLA is hunting for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament and though they're 14-12 (5-8) and 10th in the Pac-12, they have a few keys wins to lean on come Selection Sunday. Those wins were both at home against then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 7 Arizona. Yes, those teams were drastically overrated, but both teams were playing fantastic basketball before that point. I won't break down UCLA's Tourney chances (which are very low), but I bring up those wins because it shows what they're capable of when everything goes right.
UCLA relies on junior guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton to fill it up from deep and senior forward Tony Parker to physically dominate down low. They also need positive contributions from role players like big man Thomas Welsh, Prince Ali (handsome as he) and slashing guard Aaron Holiday (Jrue and Justin's little brother). If that happens and they play decent defense, UCLA can beat anybody. Their problem has been getting all those pieces to work at the same time.
Arguably UCLA's best player, Tony Parker has dealt with injuries this season, but when he's healthy, he can punk fools on the block. At 6'9, 260, not many college players are bigger than Parker and not many are as skilled as him either. Quite obviously, the best way to defend him is to have an ace defender in the post. Last time I checked, Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott are both incredible defenders, and they do their disruption without fouling. Fun fact: Out of all Big-6 basketball players this season (at least 600 minutes played, at least 40 blocks on the season), only five players have as many or more blocked shots as they have personal fouls. Gordon and Scott are two of those five.
Parker's impact isn't just offensive. On the glass, Parker uses his frame and experience to dominate one-on-one rebounding battles. His 9.1 rebounds per game is impressive, but it's not completely indicative of his game; before his playing time decrease, Parker was averaging nearly 10 per game, and his rebound rate of 18% is elite level. Defensively, his strength could really disrupt Josh Scott, especially if Scott isn't 100% yet. Luckily for Colorado, Parker has played limited minutes as of late and I'm guessing that he reaggravated a foot injury, so his impact may be nullified by a lack of playing time.
If Parker is forced to the bench, UCLA will need Thomas Welsh to step up. While he struggled on the Arizona trip (partially due to foul trouble), the 7-footer has been a monster at times this year, particularly on the boards. That said, he's a severely limited offensive threat as he lacks both a discernible post game and a consistent jump shot. All Colorado would really have to do to mitigate his presence would be to out rebound him, which is kind of the Buffs' forte. On the other end, Welsh isn't a great shot blocker and is prone to foul trouble, so his defensive impact would be limited against Colorado's two excellent post scorers, granted Gordon's offensive improvements.
UCLA would ideally play Welsh and Parker together because of their rebounding and defensive presence. Steve Alford is no stranger to massive lineups, but the difference between New Mexico's Kirk-Bairstow lineups and this is that the former bigs were both respectable shooters and demanded attention away from the paint. With Welsh and Parker, UCLA has cramped space which would be crippling for an offense if not for two elite shooters in Hamilton and the younger Alford.
Individually, Hamilton and Alford can keep UCLA competitive with a hot shooting night. If they're both on, the Bruin offense will hum like there is no tomorrow. But as is the case with almost all college players, consistency can be a struggle at times. While both players offer some drive-and-dish playmaking (they combine for about 9 assists per game), UCLA's offense will sputter out of control if their shots aren't sinking.
For Colorado, they'll look to Gordon and Scott in the post with shooters surrounding them. UCLA gives up a ton of threes and lack any above average perimeter defenders, so George King and company could have a big day. And despite his lackluster performance last game, I'm feeling a big game from Dom Collier.
Overall, Colorado seems to match up fairly well with UCLA. If the Buffs play solid perimeter defense and they're able to take advantage of Parker's limited playing time (assuming he is limited), Colorado could get a key road win tomorrow night. All the Buffs have to do then is hold onto the ball against a team that struggles to force turnovers, but it's not like that's ever stopped them before. Ha.
Colorado 73, UCLA 68