The Wooden Legacy Tournament, in some form or another, has been around since 1994. For those that don’t know, it is an annual basketball tournament held in California (this year in Orange County) over Thanksgiving weekend. The precise dates this year will be November 24-27, with no game played on the 26th. Each team is guaranteed to compete in three games.
You might recall that Boise State represented the Mountain West Conference last year and took home fourth place honors. This year New Mexico will try its best to bring the tournament championship back to Albuquerque.
Standing in their way will be a formidable UCLA team that is currently ranked 16th in the nation. Of course, there is some history between the two schools: UCLA head coach Steve Alford helped make New Mexico’s basketball team relevant before jetting to Los Angeles for more money, history, and glamor.
But before the Lobos can even think about the Bruins, they’ll have their hands full with Virginia Tech, who like UNM, are currently undefeated at 3-0. This should be a good matchup, if for no other reason than neither team has faced any stiff competition quite yet (aside from UNM’s game with NMSU). Therefore, it will be a good test for the Lobos. Should they defeat the Hokies, then UNM will take on the winner of Texas A&M(2-1)/Cal-State Northridge(2-2) in the semi-finals.
As mentioned, the clear cut favorites of this tournament is UCLA. They’ll be playing to honor their former coach, John Wooden, and will be doing so in front of their hometown crowd. The Bruins have absolutely smoked their competition en route to a 4-0 record. The scary part about this team is that a lot of different players are getting it done. T.J. Leaf leads them with 20 ppg, but Bryce Alford has been good for 19 while Isaac Hamilton and Lonzo Ball are chipping in 17 and 16, respectively.
Heck, they have six guys average double digit scoring per game. They’ll begin play against Portland on Thursday at 9:00 pm MT. Assuming they win, they’ll take on the winner of Nebraska(3-0)/Dayton(2-1).
As you can see by the records, there are some good teams in this year’s pool. The worst team CSU-Northridge is .500 whereas everyone else has winning records. What does that mean for New Mexico? They’ll need monster games from Tim Williams and Elijah Brown as always. But they’ll also need that third, fourth, and even fifth guy to come up big. Perhaps that is Sam Logwood, Damien Jefferson, or Xavier Adams. These players have shown the potential to emerge as threats in the past. Can they rise to the challenge this weekend? It also means some consistent three point shooting.
So far this season that has been the Lobos’ achilles heal as they’re shooting only 21% from downtown. Hopefully the rims in California will be kinder to them than the ones at the Pit. And that brings me to my last point: the Lobos are on the road for the first time this season. This could be a great opportunity for the team to bond and find some chemistry, but they will need to do so quickly.
New Mexico’s game against Virginia Tech is Thursday at 2:30 MT on ESPN.