The Wooden Classic is usually a great way for UCLA to shine at an event named for their legendary coach John Wooden. Well tonight, it’s going to be an eye-opener for a team searching for its identity and Bruins fans should be worried it comes against a tough San Diego State team.
The No. 23 Aztecs are fresh off a narrow win against USC. They have a 25-game winning streak against California programs and their squad is loaded with top prospects from California as well as outside the state borders. Not to mention that leading scorer/rebounder Jamaal Franklin is establishing himself as an All-American candidate.
Basically, they are what UCLA should be. San Diego State’s NCAA Tournament resume since 2008 dwarfs UCLA’s and instead of the Bruins being the model program of Southern California, it’s the Aztecs that have made claim to that.
UCLA comes to this game on the heels of seeing two players leave the program this week and being reduced to seven scholarship players (eight if Tony Parker is cleared to play). The loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is still lingering despite beating Cal State Northridge on Wednesday. Instead of looking to establish region supremacy, they’re looking to regain some confidence.
I used to be anxious for the Wooden Classic because I knew UCLA had a great chance to win most of the time. Now? I’m curious to see how San Diego State looks. I can’t recall the last time a non Pac-12 team has beaten UCLA and USC in the same season and there’s a good chance the Aztecs could accomplish that.
That’s not to say the Bruins are huge underdogs. This will be a great chance to see how Shabazz Muhammad measures against Franklin. How will the Aztecs defend Jordan Adams to prevent him from scoring so easily? Can Larry Drew continue his stellar distribution against an athletic team? And don’t forget, San Diego State nearly blew that game against USC.
I think there’s a great opportunity for UCLA to make a statement and overcome the adversity of losing Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith. My heart says UCLA shows their toughness and pulls one out but my mind believes San Diego State sends Westwood into further frustration. Either way, I think it will be a great game.