UCLA basketball notes from Pac-12 Media Day

My story today from Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day focused on UCLA guard Norman Powell, but also touched on head coach Steve Alford’s reactions to an offseason that included a campus flood and the loss of not only three NBA draftees, but also two prospective newcomers.

Some more notes from the event:

» Whether or not big man Tony Parker can stay out of foul trouble will affect how successful UCLA will be on defense this season. Alford said he hopes to play the junior around 25 minutes per game this season, up from the 17.2 he averaged last year.

Parker was one of the most foul-prone players in the Pac-12, committing an average of 6.77 every 40 minutes. Earlier this week, he gave himself a D- for his sophomore campaign, citing those foul troubles. He added that he’s in better shape now, and is also learning how to adjust to officials more.

» Based on what Alford has said in recent weeks — as well as the realities of the backcourt depth chart — sophomore Noah Allen appears primed for a significant uptick in playing time. The former three-star recruit only played in 11 games last season, averaging 1.0 point in 3.5 minutes per outing. Continue reading

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Mora won’t commit to starting Conor McDermott at left tackle

UCLA head coach Jim Mora wouldn’t commit to 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Conor McDermott making his second consecutive start at left tackle on Saturday.

With injuries and inexperience having limited him to 22 snaps entering last week’s surprise start, McDermott held up impressively for 89 plays in Saturday’s 36-34 win over Cal.

With McDermott’s start shifting former left tackle Malcolm Bunche to guard, an offensive line that allowed 24 sacks in the first six games gave up just one to Cal.

Mora, however, is still cautiously approaching his use of McDermott entering Saturday’s meeting with Colorado.

“Has he done enough to stay in the starting lineup? Yes,” Mora said. “Will he? We’ll see.”

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Schedule lines up to honor David Quessenberry’s battle with cancer

UCLA’s matchup with Colorado on Saturday couldn’t be better timed as far as Buffaloes coach Mike MacIntyre is concerned. It falls on the same weekend as San Jose State’s game at Navy, creating a confluence of the four teams with strong ties to Houston Texans second-year offensive lineman David Quessenberry.

Quessenberry, who was diagnosed with lymphoma over the summer, will be honored when all four teams wear stickers with his initials on their helmets, including Quessenberry’s two younger brothers.

UCLA starting right guard Scott Quessenberry and Navy defensive end Paul Quessenberry are just two of the people involved in the pair of games that have relationships with the 24-year-old David. MacIntyre, in his second season at Colorado, was the head coach at San Jose State when David Quessenberry arrived as a walk-on tight end before transforming into a 2013 sixth-round draft pick.

Continue reading

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UCLA picked to finish fourth in Pac-12 media poll

After losing four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, UCLA men’s basketball was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12.

A preseason media poll slotted the Bruins behind Arizona, Utah and Colorado — but did give them one first-place vote. All 31 other first-place votes went to the Wildcats, widely considered a national title contender.

They lost guard Nick Johnson and forward Aaron Gordon — the Pac-12 Player and Freshman of the Year, respectively — but return point guard T.J. McConnell and adds five-star recruit Stanley Johnson.

“There’s no better team than Arizona,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle told USA Today last week. Continue reading

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Five questions: Daily Camera’s Kyle Ringo talks Colorado

Colorado is still searching for its second conference win under head coach Mike MacIntyre, while UCLA is still searching for its first complete performance since a blowout win at Arizona State last month. The Buffs and the Bruins don’t have the most storied history, although quarterback Sefo Liufau did try to fight linebacker Anthony Barr after taking a late hit last year. Kyle Ringo from the Boulder Daily Camera answered five questions about the Buffaloes.

1. What were the biggest challenges facing Mike MacIntyre when he first took the Colorado job? Has this season been a bit of a step back after his four-win debut?

The biggest challenge is one shared by all programs that have struggled through multiple losing seasons — it’s tough to recruit to that. He’s approaching the two-year anniversary of his hiring and still struggling to get serious interest from many top-flight recruits. The four-and five-star players want to play for a winner. Most generally don’t want to be a part of building a program into a winner. That made addressing another problem more difficult. He needed to increase the speed and athleticism of his team, which he has done, but there remains work to do there. MacIntyre also took over a program that badly needed some major facilities upgrades. Those are underway now with $181 million project in and around Folsom Field. Finally, I’d say another significant problem he faced, maybe the most significant when it comes to actually making headway, was getting players in the program to develop a culture of caring about each other and playing for each other on Saturdays. He inherited a fractured team with factions and friction.

This season hasn’t been a step back by any means. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Marcus Rios recovering from life-threatening illness

The biggest moment of Marcus Rios’ football career happened last Saturday, when his late interception clinched UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal. His ongoing battle back from a rare fungal infection is even more impressive. Here’s columnist Vinny Bonsignore’s story on the redshirt sophomore, who had his latest surgery less than a month ago.

“It had been a long, long time since I saw him smile on a football field,” said Rios’ father, Richard. “So to see him smile like that Saturday, it just really put into perspective everything he’s been through. It’s been an incredible ordeal.”

Rios was also featured on Wednesday night’s episode of Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive,” teased in the video above.

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VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone on UCLA turnovers

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone talked on Wednesday about freshman receiver Mossi Johnson, running back Paul Perkins’ pass-catching — and finally, the Bruins’ recent spate of turnovers.

The team has lost 10 turnovers this season, coughing up five of them against Oregon and Cal.

“It’s like that thing you don’t talk about, right?” Mazzone said. “Hope it goes away? Protecting the football, it’s all about the ball. … Over the past two weeks, that’s something that’s hit us.”

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UCLA’s Eric Kendricks named a Lott IMPACT Trophy quarterfinalist

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UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has been named a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which former teammate Anthony Barr won a year ago.

The senior is one of 20 players still short-listed for the award, given each season to a top defensive player. The award purports to “give equal weight to personal character as well as athletic performance.”

Seven quarterfinalists hail from the Pac-12, more than any other conference. With 77 tackles this season, Kendricks is on pace to lead the league in the stat for the second time in three years.

Barr — who became a consensus All-American and the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft — displayed the award in a ceremony at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 4, during the Bruins’ 30-28 loss to Utah. UCLA received a $25,000 check toward its general scholarship fund.

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First look: Colorado Buffaloes

No. 25 UCLA Bruins (5-2, 2-2) at Colorado Buffaloes (2-5, 0-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 25, 11 a.m. PT, Folsom Field (Boulder, Colo.)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Kevin Calabro, Yogi Roth, Lewis Johnson)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: Mike MacIntyre oversaw an impressive reconstruction in his three years at San Jose State, going from 1-11 in 2010 to 10-2 in 2012. That earned him a shot at an even more difficult task: rebuilding a Colorado program that had averaged just 3.8 wins in the last six years.

That remains an uphill battle. MacIntyre took the Buffs to four wins in his debut season, but their lone conference victory came against a Cal team that finished 1-11. They are still searching for their second. That very well might not come until 2015: four of Colorado’s last five games are against top-25 opponents, with the lone exception being a five-win Washington squad.

Key players:

QB Sefo Liufau, So., 6-4, 230 — 211/323, 2,030 yards, 21 TD, 9 INT
– He’s improved almost across the board from his freshman season and is on pace to set a new Colorado single-season record in passing yards, but has already topped his interception total from last season. His nine picks rank last in the Pac-12. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley scouts Colorado offensive line

Colorado has only given up 12 sacks this season, good for the second-best mark in the Pac-12.

UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley said the key to besting the Buffs is to rely on get-off and speed rushes — as well as using his hands to avoid chop blocks.

“When they try to chop block you, they try to tear your ACL,” McKinley said. “To me, that’s dirty. To them, it’s their job. But to me, it’s pretty dirty.”

Asked if he’d noticed any other Pac-12 teams use chop-blocks, McKinley pointed out Utah — which beat UCLA 30-28. Oregon and Arizona State, on the other hand, weren’t major offenders. “Cal, their running backs did it a lot,” he continued. “I’d come in there full speed, and their little running backs just might go straight for my legs. So did the little tight ends they have.”

RELATED:
» A couple of Bruins are already familiar with Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce.
» Brett Hundley’s turnovers have been particularly untimely for UCLA.

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