THE GAME: UCLA vs Arizona
I was all set to write that I believe the bison should be the national animal of the United States. I wrote out several points to make my case. And then, just to be comprehensive, I did a quick Google search to find out if there was any information I didn't have, any counterpoints to my argument of which I was not aware.
I didn't find any... but guess what I did find: the bison is a national animal of the United States. In May of last year, the National Bison Legacy Act was signed into law, making the bison the "national mammal" of the United States, joining the Bald Eagle (the "national bird") as the national animals.
I had no idea. I read less news in 2016 than any other year of my adult life (by a considerable margin), so I imagine there are quite a few interesting stories on which I missed out.
Anyway, I love bison. I love to look at them, and I love to eat them. There are very few better symbols of the American West.
Another great symbol of the West? A UCLA-Arizona basketball game. It's only been a basketball rivalry for a little over 30 years (Arizona was irrelevant until Lute Olson was hired as their head coach in 1984; he quickly turned them into a powerhouse program), so it doesn't have the vitriol of a series like UNC-Duke or Louisville-Kentucky, but it's still provided us with some epic games over the years.
#13 Arizona at #3 UCLA had the makings of another classic.
NOTES ON THE FOOD:
- A lot (probably even most) people refer to bison as "buffalo." Hell, even Whole Foods sells bison meat as buffalo meat. Buffalo are actually found in Asian and Africa. They do not look completely dissimilar to American bison, but they are not the same animal. I grilled about a third of a pound of bison, with Shiner Bock bbq sauce on each side.
- Since we're going with a western theme here, I picked up some oak-smoked cheddar. It was good. (But not $20/pound good.)
- There is a company in Montana that makes Mexican-inspired sauces and seasonings, with the perhaps too-cute name of "Montana Mex." Whatever, their ketchup is delicious. I used it as a base to make my own Thousand Island, with chopped pickles, mayo, and horseradish. If you like Thousand Island, definitely try making your own some time. It's much better than almost any you can buy in the store.
- And I crowned the burger with some beer-battered onion rings and bacon, because, well, why not?
NOTES ON THE GAME:
- I will tell you from the outset: I'm not completely buying the UCLA hype. Yes, their offense has been fun to watch. Yes, their offense is arguably the best show in college basketball when they're firing on all cylinders (although Kentucky at their best moments is right there). But is everyone forgetting that there are two aspects to basketball? Offense and defense. UCLA's defense has been average at best and nonexistent at worse. You can win a lot of games scoring 93 points per game while playing matador defense, but you cannot win a championship that way.
- Arizona has a freshman named Chance Comanche who went to Beverly Hills High School. This makes me very happy, though I can't tell you precisely why.
- Lonzo Ball definitely has a flair for big games - he's taken 5 three-pointers in the first 10 minutes.
- Also at this point, UA has 8 second-chance points; UCLA has zero. That's because as soon as UA shoots, UCLA is more interested in getting out on the fast break than grabbing defensive rebounds.
- The final 10 seconds of the half summed up the game perfectly: UCLA took a long, ill-advised shot and missed; UA took the rebound and went the length of the floor to score with virtually no opposition from UCLA.
- There was an article online the other day about how Steve Alford has modeled this year's Bruins after the Golden State Warriors. That's an apt comparison: if they're making their 3s, it's easy to overlook their other deficiencies. When they're not - and UCLA was 3-14 from 3 in the first half - they look mediocre.
- UCLA is leading the country with 22.5 assists per game - they had only 6 in the first half. (Of course, it's hard to get assists when you're bricking shots left and right.)
- The teams are trading plays through the first five minutes of the second half, so UA is still up 9.
- I always get a kick out of announcers talking about how teams played two days earlier so "they're probably tired." Do you remember being 19 years old? These guys can play every single day and they'll be fine.
- UCLA went on a 10-1 run to make it close, but then allowed UA to go coast-to-coast twice, give up a 3, and Arizona's lead is back up to 10.
- I do not remember a bigger defensive liability on UCLA than Bryce Alford. Yes, he shoots 3s well, but Arizona has been attacking him all game, as well they should.
- Arizona wins by 11 but it feels like it was twice that much. They are the better team and they dictated the pace all game. UCLA could never get stops when they needed one.
- I wrote a couple of hours ago that I am not buying into the UCLA hype. This game is exactly why. They still have time to improve - it's not even the halfway point of conference play yet - but I'm not holding my breath. The lack of defense is just too glaring. Giving up 96 points at home isn't acceptable if you're the #30 team in America, let alone #3.
- Arizona looks like a legitimate Final Four team; they play well on both sides of the ball.