UCLA, Texas A&M meet in Wooden championship
UCLA gets the opportunity to win a tournament named after the program's patriarch when the 14th-ranked Bruins play Texas A&M in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
UCLA (6-0) reached the championship game with wins over Portland and Nebraska. The Bruins beat the Pilots 99-77 in the first round, tying the tournament scoring record, before beating the Cornhuskers 82-71 in the semifinals.
Texas A&M (4-1) won two in a row since suffering a two-point loss to USC. The Aggies beat Cal State Northridge 95-73 in the opening round of the tournament and stormed back from a 17-point second-half deficit to edge Virginia Tech 68-65 in the semifinals. They are trying to win their first in-season tournament title since the 2007 NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Bruins are well aware that the Wooden Legacy tournament is named after John Wooden, the legendary coach who became known as the Wizard of Westwood after transforming UCLA into a national power. Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships in a span of 12 years, including seven in a row from 1967-73.
UCLA coach Steve Alford was asked what it will mean to his team to play in the championship game of the Wooden tournament.
"It means a lot for different reasons," he said. "Coach Wooden's name is on it, and what he means to our institution and his legacy of creating excellence both in the classroom and on the basketball court, that is something our guys take seriously.
"Secondly, we have talked this as a team, and it's our first chance to win a championship. It doesn't mean that you'll have postseason success, but the Final Four teams last year all won an exempt tournament. If that is a goal of ours, as it is, we want to take those steps towards trying to get to that point. Knowing that this championship could have Coach Wooden's name on it is an extra bonus."
Texas A&M coach Bill Kennedy agreed.
"I had the chance to meet Coach Wooden and what he represents," Kennedy said. "I have a lot of respect for him, and to play UCLA would be a good opportunity for us. Anytime you're involved with something Coach Wooden is part of, it is a true blessing."
The Bruins are second in the nation in scoring at an average of 100.7 points. T.J. Leaf leads the way with averages of 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds while Bryce Alford is averaging 17.7 points, Isaac Hamilton 16.7 and Lonzo Ball 16 points. Thomas Welsh is putting up 11.3 points and 9.7 rebounds.
D.J. Hogg scored a career-high 25 points in Texas A&M's win over Cal State Northridge. He recorded his first career double-double the following night against Virginia Tech, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds. Hogg is averaging 19.7 points, shooting 53.7 percent from the field and making 55 percent from 3-point range over the past three games.
The tournament provides a platform for the continued emergence of Robert Williams, a 6-foot-9 freshman. In the past three games, Williams is averaging 11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and two blocks.
"I'm just trying to impact each game best as I can -- rebounds, blocked shots, whatever coach needs me to do," Williams told Yahoo Sports.
UCLA leads Texas A&M 4-0 in the all-time series. They have not met since the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, when the Bruins beat the Aggies 51-49 to advance to the Sweet 16.