UCLA men’s basketball just suffered its first loss of the season, dropping a 75-65 decision to Oklahoma today. After debuting in the Associated Press poll at No. 22 on Monday, the Bruins’ stay could be short-lived if it loses to fifth-ranked North Carolina tomorrow as the Battle 4 Atlantis continues in the Bahamas.
This team has talent, if not depth, but there’s a reason Steve Alford preached patience before the start of the season. It will take time for him to coach the team up to where he wants it to be.
But under Alford’s long-term philosophy, it’s these early games against top teams that will make UCLA a tougher program. The second-year head coach told ESPN on Wednesday that the Bruins are close to finalizing a home-and-home series with Kentucky, which has become a perennial title contender under John Calipari. The series would start in 2015 at Pauley Pavilion, then conclude at Rupp Arena the following year.
UCLA already has a game against the No. 1 Wildcats on Dec. 20 at the United Center in Chicago, as part of the CBS Sports Classic.
Since being hired in 2013, Alford has not been shy about his desire to schedule big-time nonconference opponents. The Bruins have a home-and-home against Gonzaga this year and the next, and are currently playing in a tournament that features three other ranked teams.
This wasn’t a chaotic week in the College Football Playoff rankings, but UCLA nevetheless continued its climb — inching up one spot to No. 8 following a 38-20 win over USC.
The Bruins are now the nation’s best two-loss team in the eyes of the selection committee. Those two losses came against other top-25 teams: No. 2 Oregon and No. 25 Utah, which is the only four-loss team to appear in the latest rankings. The order of the top seven remained unchanged, however.
UCLA’s path is still clear. If it beats Stanford on Friday, it will earn a second shot at the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship. Given the committee’s friendliness toward the league, the Bruins will have a good chance at a playoff berth if they can win their first conference title since 1998 — even if one-loss teams such as Ohio State and Baylor don’t drop another game.
UCLA’s defense will have one less concern this Friday, as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout and kick returner produced a season-low 87 all-purpose yards against the Bruins last season, but is a dynamic player who is hard to bring down in the open field. The senior leads his team with 61 catches this season (for 604 yards and three touchdowns), which accounts for 28.5 percent of the Cardinal’s reception total. He also has 429 yards on 17 kickoff returns.
Montgomery’s absence will rob an unremarkable Stanford offense of its biggest playmaker. Without a powerful lead back to lean on, quarterback Kevin Hogan has not been able to progress beyond his game-manager role. After averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt last season — good for 13th in the country — the redshirt junior has dipped to 7.6.
UCLA’s pass rush has picked significantly this month, getting a season-high six sacks against USC. Combined with an improving secondary, the Bruins are now allowing just 6.3 yards per pass attempt — good for second in the conference and 25th nationally. However, defensive backs Ishmael Adams and Priest Willis are questionable with ankle and head injuries.
The biggest worry for UCLA this Friday is Stanford’s defense — by far the toughest on the Bruins’ schedule. The Cardinal have no obvious holes on that side of the ball, ranking third nationally in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) and 15th in yards per carry (3.18).
Asked what in particular is challenging about the Stanford defense, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone quipped: “What isn’t challenging about the Stanford defense?”
Eric Kendricks’ stellar season is garnering more and more recognition. UCLA’s senior linebacker became a Butkus Award finalist on Monday, and also picked up his second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.
Kendricks is the second Bruin in as many years to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given each year to college football’s top linebacker. No UCLA player has ever won the Butkus; All-American linebacker Anthony Barr lost out to Alabama’s C.J. Mosley last season.
This year, Kendricks’ stiffest competition is likely Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who has 23.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. Kendricks has the edge in tackles (128 to 63) and interceptions (three to zero), but has just seven tackles for loss and two sacks. Continue reading →
When Brett Hundley announced in January that he was coming back to UCLA for his redshirt junior season, he made clear that this would be his last run with the Bruins.
“We won’t be here doing this again next year,” the quarterback said then.
Since then, he’s said a few more times that nothing has changed. But just in case anyone is keeping track of how often Hundley needs to tell everyone he’s gone, here’s the latest.
“There’s a really good chance that was my last game against USC,” Hundley said on The Jim Rome Show today. “The conversation keeps coming up. I’ve got my degree. I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something really, truly great, and I feel good. That’s probably my last one against USC.”
Hundley has a chance to beat Stanford this week and Oregon in the Pac-12 title game — two teams that have haunted him — but said after practice today he isn’t worried about how that affects the scope of his career.
“I think I’ve done a lot throughout my career here,” he said. “Hopefully, we pull out this win on Friday. You can’t worry about what you have done, what you haven’t done.”
It needed four games, but UCLA men’s basketball has made its first appearance in the Associated Press top 25 this season.
The Bruins debuted at No. 22 after beating Long Beach State, 77-63, at on Sunday night. The 49ers provided UCLA with its first real challenge at Pauley Pavilion, closing to within five points with three minutes left. Steve Alford’s team held an 11-point halftime lead, but shot just 37.5 percent from the field and 9-of-18 from the line in the second half.
“That’s the poorest we’ve been coming out of halftime. But we needed this,” Alford said. “We needed to see what happens when someone punches you in the second half.”
The Bruins now travel to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, opening with a 11:30 a.m. PT tipoff against Oklahoma on Wednesday. They will then face either Butler or No. 5 North Carolina on Thursday, and another team on Friday. The tournament also features No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 18 Florida, and Georgetown.
UCLA defensive back and returner Ishmael Adams injured his ankle in Saturday’s 38-20 win against USC, and remained limited during Monday’s practice.
However, head coach Jim Mora sounded optimistic about Adams’ chances to return against Stanford this Friday to help the Bruins clinch the Pac-12 South. The 5-foot-8 corner has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season, as well as 100-yard kick return score. He also has 33 tackles and four pass breakups.
“He came out and he moved around,” Mora said. “I didn’t see much of a limp. Continue reading →