UCLA Basketball handles Cal State LA in exhibition, Welsh shines

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 5: Thomas Welsh /

UCLA Basketball kicked off the 2017-18 season with a scrimmage against Cal State LA. Here are some early thoughts on the new look Bruins.

UCLA Basketball began the post-Lonzo Ball era with a win against Cal State Los Angeles 111-80. Sure it was a exhibition and exhibitions don’t count. But they allow a young team to dip their toes in college basketball waters before the craziness of the deep end. And make no mistake about it, the UCLA Basketball team is young.

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They feature six freshmen who will be asked to play key roles. So the scrimmage was a good start but take everything after this paragraph with a grain of salt. Got it? Good. Here are some thoughts from our first look at the 2017-18 Bruins:

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1. Thomas Welsh was dominant

Whatever UCLA basketball accomplishes this season, Thomas Welsh will be in the middle of it. For three years, he has quietly improved, extending his shooting range and developing on the defensive end, but has largely been overshadowed by his more talented teammates. Now, he finally gets to play a starring role. If tonight’s game was any indication, he is ready for his closeup. Welsh grabbed 14 rebounds, made both of his threes and poured in 22 points.

2. The kids are alright

Of the newcomers, Jaylen Hands shone the brightest. He struggled with CSULA’s press early in the game but settled down as the game went on finishing with a near triple double: 12 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds.

Although Kris Wilkes will have better shooting nights than this, he still showed off his athleticism and caught a couple of lobs from Hands. Chris Smith played great defense and made his lone three point attempt.

Furthermore, Cody Riley moves very well for a big man and handled defensive switches admirably.  Finally, LiAngelo Ball can provide some shooting. He is not very quick and I would like to see him get some minutes as a stretch four. Additionally, he is pretty strong and may even be able to defend some power forwards. Jalen Hill was injured and did not make an appearance.

3. Defense is much improved

This team is really long, athletic and deep. Actually, it is probably the most athletic team that Steve Alford has had since he arrived at UCLA. Smith, Wilkes, Holiday and Hands all have Pac-12 defensive player of the year potential and Prince Ali is back as well. The upshot is that UCLA Basketball should be able to play man defense without giving much up by way of dribble penetration.

Additionally, the Bruins might finally be able to play perimeter defense and stop teams from taking advantage from the three point stripe. As a result, the 1-2-2 zone that Alford deployed in the past really shouldn’t be necessary. With the depth and versatility on this squad, we might even see some pressing in the future.

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Next up, UCLA Basketball begins the season with a trip to China to face Georgia Tech on Friday, November 10th at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.