UCLA coach Steve Alford was given the choice of three high-profile non-conference games when he took the job. Alford chose to take on Duke at Madison Square Garden.
Jabari Parker made sure Alford knew he made the wrong choice.
Parker scored a game-high 23 points as the Blue Devils held UCLA to 26 second-half points en route to a 80-63 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Duke (9-2) came into Thursday night's contest having lost two of its first three games away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. With the two teams tied at 37-37 after a back-and-forth first half, it looked as if the Bruins would be the latest to give Mike Krzyzewski and his young squad a run for their money.
In the last 20 minutes, however, the talent of Parker and Co. won out. After a David Wear jumper tied the contest with 16:22 remaining in the second half, the Blue Devils went on a 15-4 run on a series of three-point jumpers and looks close to the basket. Rodney Hood knocked down two three-point jumpers and Parker added a three and a ferocious dunk of his own.
“The difference was the transition, to sprint back as fast as possible and prevent them from getting the open court and I think we prevailed today," Parker told ESPN's Andy Katz post-game.
The upstart Bruins never got closer than eight points again, but it wasn't without trying. Guard-forward Kyle Anderson played one of the best games of his career against elite competition, finishing three assists shy of his second triple-double of the season. The sophomore finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on 7-of-11 shooting from the field.
UCLA also got a stellar game from David Ware, who made his first six shots en route to a team-high 16 points. Guard Jordan Adams rounded out the Bruins' double-digit scorers with 10.
If there was an overarching theme of the game, it's that Duke's depth came to play. Despite Parker's heroics, the Blue Devils wouldn't have been able to pull away without a stellar evening from their bench. Forward Amile Jefferson scored 11 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots. Rasheed Sulaimon struggled with his shot, but still had an all-around solid night with eight points, six rebounds and four assists.
Meanwhile, UCLA's bench shot 5-of-19 as a unit. High-flying freshman Zach LaVine threw down a ferocious dunk in the second half, but that was one of only three makes on 11 attempts. It was far and away the worst game of his young career, as he finished with just seven points.
With LaVine and other critical members of the rotation struggling, UCLA was always fighting an uphill battle. Duke opened the game on an 18-8 run as the Bruins were unable to properly match up on defense, leading Alford to spend almost the entire rest of the contest in a zone. The strategy worked initially as the Blue Devils saw a series of shots clang off the rim.
Parker led the way with 11 points to keep Duke afloat.
In the second half, though, the floodgates opened up. The Blue Devils took 32 (11 makes) of their 66 field goals from beyond the arc and moved the ball beautifully around the outside. Their 21 assists were nine more than UCLA, and they also finished with the rebounding advantage.
“We were decisive on the arc, we have a lot of players who can play beyond the three," Parker said. “They can penetrate, [and] it’s also good for our defense so we can run out in transition.”
Parker finished with his third double-double of the season, adding 10 rebounds and five assists to his 23 points. This was his ninth 20-point outing in 11 career games. Quinn Cook, who also had seven steals, tied with Hood for the second on the team with 14 points. Their second-half contributions came up huge in the waning moments as the Bruins seemed dejected.
UCLA has now lost two of its last three games and have to be a bit concerned about its second-half acumen. The Bruins' loss to Missouri on Dec. 7 followed a similar script, as the Tigers outscored them by 17 points in the second half on their way to a 80-71 victory. Building the program back into a national power means taking risks against these top-flight opponents.
UCLA has now proven twice that it's not quite ready for the limelight.
|F David Wear||B+|
|F Travis Wear||D|
|G Norman Powell||D|
|G Jordan Adams||B-|
|G Kyle Anderson||A-|
|F Tony Parker||C-|
|G Zach LaVine||C-|
|G Bryce Alford||C-|
|F Josh Hairston||C|
|F Rodney Hood||B-|
|F Jabari Parker||A|
|G Tyler Thornton||C-|
|G Quinn Cook||B+|
|F Amile Jefferson||B+|
|C Marshall Plumlee||C|
|G Andre Dawkins||D+|
|G Rasheed Sulaimon||B-|
Players of the Game: Jabari Parker (F, Duke) and Kyle Anderson (F, UCLA)
I'm not sure if you've heard, but this Parker kid is pretty good at basketball. While it's still up in the air whether he will wind up overtaking Andrew Wiggins as the No. 1 pick in June's draft, what was clear Thursday night was that he has a clear sense of big moments.
Parker opened the game as an aggressor, taking a flurry of early shots and trying to get the Madison Square Garden crowd going. There are too many plaudits thrown around about the famous New York City building being somehow the most special on the planet, but you could tell Parker was relishing on the stage.
These are the types of games scouts look at and nod with approval. Parker flashed every piece of his game, knocking down shots from distance, rebounding and finding open teammates against the UCLA zone. We're lucky to get to see this kid play a year of college basketball.
On the other side, Anderson continues to show that one-and-done isn't always the right answer. Highly touted when he arrived at UCLA, Anderson suffered through a disappointing freshman season and decided to come back rather than enter his name into the draft.
Suffice it to say, the decision worked out. He has an innate understanding of where to be on the court, and he's a nightly triple-double threat who nearly pulled one off against the No. 8 team in the country. Anderson still isn't a great shooter, but watching him pass and crash the boards is plenty fun enough.
Duke should get a warm welcome from its holiday break, as the Blue Devils host lowly Eastern Michigan on Dec. 28. UCLA heads back to Los Angeles for its next contest, with Weber State traveling to Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.
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