The excitement and discussion and focus may all be on the ND football team right now with their impending Cotton Bowl match-up with Clemson just 3 weeks away, but tonight the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team will renew an old rivalry once again with the UCLA Bruins, squaring off in prime time on the west coast in Pauley Pavilion.
The Irish (6-2) enter the game hot off of a close loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Jimmy V Classic — ND played decently well (Juwan Durham especially showed A TON with Oklahoma’s best big man out of commission, scoring 15 points in just 15 minutes of action), but the team couldn’t buy a free throw down the stretch while the Sooners shot very well from outside all game long.
Meanwhile, the Bruins have been similar to the Irish in this early point of the season, standing at 6-2 with wins over bad teams but having lost to the only two good opponents on their schedule to-date, Michigan State and North Carolina — both in blowout fashion.
The Bruins have a lot of young talent and a very balanced team, though with 9 different guys averaging at least 15 minutes per game so far. This will be a very good early road test for a young Irish team who’s beginning to show real flashes of being good but still hasn’t been able to put it all together.
Oh, and Bill Walton is doing the game, so that’s a reason on its own to tune in, by the way.
- Notre Dame and UCLA will be meeting for the 49th time tonight, with UCLA leading the series 28-20. ND owns more victories over UCLA than any other non-conference opponent (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
- In case you have been living under a rock and didn’t know, the Irish-Bruins series has been historic and littered with big games, with of course the most famous one being when the Irish ended the Bruins’ then-record 88-game winning streak in 1974. ND was also the last team to beat UCLA before that streak began, in 1971
- Mike Brey is 2-2 vs. UCLA as coach of Notre Dame and 1-0 against UCLA coach Steve Alford — ND beat Alford’s New Mexico Lobos team in the NIT in 2009 (per Alan Wasielewski)
- ND’s Juwan Durham leads all ACC players in blocked shots per game with 2.57, and F John Mooney leads all ACC players in double-doubles with 4 so far this year (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Despite still not shooting that well overall this season, Irish G TJ Gibbs has scored 18+ points in 4 of the last 5 games and has shot 45% from deep in the last three contests (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Notre Dame is 13-26 all-time playing in the state of California (per Alan Wasielewski)
- UCLA has won 35 of 38 at home since the beginning of the 2016-2017 season (per Alan Wasielewski)
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, California
When: Saturday, December 8th at 10:30 PM ET
How to Watch:
- TV: ESPN2 with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton
- Live Stream: WatchESPN.com and the ESPN app
- Radio: Notre Dame Basketball Network (also available on the Notre Dame app) - with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland
UCLA Bruins (6-2)
The Bruins come into this game looking for a more marquee win than what they’ve gotten so far in beating teams like Hawaii, Loyola Marymount, and Long Beach State. The Irish, although in a relative down year with all the talent that graduated and with all the young, raw players, provide the Bruins with a big-name opponent after having fallen easily to Michigan State and UNC in November.
UCLA will be led by 6’9” sophomore guard Kris Wilkes, who is averaging 17.5 points per game (plus 4.1 rpg and 2 apg) and is the only Bruin to score in double figures in every game this season. The young, long talent from Indianapolis could present severe match-up problems for the Irish considering his height, length, and ball-handling ability. Look for Rex Pflueger to match up on him a lot, spelled by guys like DJ Harvey (!) who might at least have the length to alter his shot.
Another key guy to know on the Bruins is 7’1” center Moses Brown, who has been very good this season, averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds per game while also averaging nearly 3 blocks per contest. Juwan Durham will likely be able to prevent a HUGE day of scoring for Brown, but Durham can’t play enough minutes to completely shut down Brown.
Furthermore, Brown’s biggest contribution will almost certainly be on the defensive side, where he will be a shot-blocking, rim-protecting menace who makes it very hard on TJ Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb, DJ Harvey, and the rest of the ND guards who like to drive to the hoop.
Jaylen Hands is another key guy and will be a good test of Gibbs and Hubb, as the Bruins’ point guard averages 12.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and a Pac-12-leading 6.3 assists per game. Hands does a great job of distributing the rock and running Alford’s offense and will be sure to feed the ball to Wilkes and Brown, as well as a number of other guys who have shown the ability to score a little bit.
Those other guys include Chris Smith (10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 39% from 3), Prince Ali (9.9 ppg), Cody Riley (8.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and Jules Bernard (7.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 40% from 3).
Bruin to Watch
Kris Wilkes, Guard, Sophomore
He’s their best scorer and a really tough match-up because he’s so tall and long and yet plays on the wing. Pflueger will need to bring his A-game defensively, and others will need to step up in help defense when Wilkes is attacking the rim.
John “John Mutton” Mooney, Forward, Junior
With some solid rebounders out there and with a 7-footer roaming the paint for UCLA, the Irish need Mooney to continue to be a tough, double-double machine down low. His scoring will be crucial to get ND going and keep them in the game, and his rebounding will be even more critical in order to keep Wilkes and Brown from doing too much damage and having too many second chances inside.
I think the Irish win this game at Purcell, but unfortunately it’s a late-night game on the west coast against a Bruins team with a nice smattering of talent and a fairly deep rotation. I’m taking UCLA in a pretty close game.
The Bruins win this one 77-72.