After UCLA won its sixth straight game of the basketball season Friday night, November 23, with an 81-47 romp over Yale in Pauley Pavilion, forward Lorenzo Mata-Real was asked a question.
“The team is 6-0 with only seven guys playing most of the minutes. How good can the Bruins be when they have all 10 scholarship players?”
Mata-Real replied without hesitation.
“Hopefully, unbelievable,” he said.
It isn’t known when Coach Ben Howland will have all his players because guards Darren Collison and Michael Roll and forward James Keefe have been out with injuries, and forward Alfred Aboya suffered a fracture under the right eye in this game.
But with freshman center Kevin Love joining four starters from a Final Four team, UCLA appears worthy of its No. 2 national ranking, trailing only North Carolina in early season polls.
As advertised, Love has been good enough to become a starter at the outset of his college career, and he was voted MVP of a tournament last week that included a narrow victory over a tough Michigan State team.
“Coach Tom Izzo of Michigan State wanted his team to play physical against us and I felt like a pinball machine,” said Love, who played at Lake Oswego High in Oregon last season.
“But we prepare for that. Every day we go hard in practice. When we get everyone back we’re going to be hard to beat.”
Love is averaging 20 points per game and 10 rebounds. He scored 15 against Yale and set up teammates’ baskets with precision passes.
In observing UCLA in person for the first time, I saw a very unselfish team, and that begins with Love. He finds open teammates and they find him.
And it was encouraging for Bruin fans that Love and Mata-Real worked well together. Mata-Real is a senior who started on a Final Four team last season, then was beaten out by the exceptional Love. But Mata-Real has handled a reserve role well and on this night he had 12 rebounds.
“We don’t play on the same side in practice, we go against each other,” said Mata-Real. “But we played well side-by-side tonight.”
Said Love: “I always look for open teammates.”
Perhaps a name change has helped the senior’s game. Last season when he was known as Mata he struggled so much at the free throw line that Bruin fans cringed when he was fouled. Now known as Mata-Real, he made three free throws against Yale, drawing loud cheers from the turnout of 10,420.
UCLA, which had a game Wednesday against George Washington (result unavailable at press time), will also be home Sunday, December 2, at 5 p.m. against Texas.