UCLA finally settles into the season with upset of Kentucky


UCLA finally settles into the season with upset of Kentucky

Until now, the UCLA Bruins have been mired in uncertainty.

Would the trio of players involved in the shoplifting incident in China return to the roster? Do they have enough depth to survive any time without them?

That uncertainty spiraled into a product on the court that had the looks of a significant step back from a season ago — 3 losses and shaky wins against the likes of South Dakota and Central Arkansas.

UCLA finally settles into the season with upset of Kentucky Must-See Highlights!!! UCLA finally settles into the season with upset of Kentucky

UCLA knocks off No. 7 Kentucky in New Orleans! #GoBruins #UCLAvsUK pic.twitter.com/K2KVQ0B6r1

— UCLA Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 24, 2017

This week, clarity finally arrived.

Following the recent departure of LiAngelo Ball from the school to play professional basketball in Lithuania, UCLA announced that Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are suspended for the rest of this season.

That clarity emboldened the Bruins on Saturday’s 83-75 upset of No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday.

Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times pointed out Bruins head coach Steve Alford’s take on the effect of announcement of the suspensions:

Steve Alford on suspension announcement: "I think it helped the team. There was some resolution, just some finality of what it is and I think the guys responded that way. We'll have a nice Christmas break and when we resume on the 26th we'll have those guys back for practice."

— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) December 24, 2017

Bolch also reported that Hill and Riley will be back on campus and stick with the program — an olive branch from the two players to the rest of the roster.

Steve Alford said the suspended players are committed to coming back: "They'll be back at 8 o'clock on the 26th."

— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) December 24, 2017

Press conference after UCLA’s 83-75 win over Kentucky in CBS Sports Classic.

Posted by Kentucky.com on Saturday, December 23, 2017

Against Kentucky, the team that ousted UCLA from the NCAA Tournament last season, Kris Wilkes and Aaron Holiday each scored 20 points, re-establishing themselves as leaders.

The Bruins stretched the young Wildcats’ defense — even Thomas Welch connected from behind the arc 3 times in the win. It seemed UCLA shot its way back into the national conversation as one of the upper echelon teams.

Holiday is one of the best point guards in the country, and guard play gives any team a chance to translate December wins into March wins.

UCLA’s first two months didn’t go anywhere near as planned for Alford, his staff or his players. But Saturday afternoon provided the Bruins’ first true glimmer of hope, and perhaps a peek behind the curtain of how Pac-12 play will unfold.

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