UCLA brutes the Utes

Nothing quite boosts the confidence like stomping on a doormat.

The Pac-12 gave the UCLA men’s basketball team a bit of a reprieve on Thursday, a quick pick-me-up after what was a weekend to forget in Oregon.

The Bruins rebounded from back-to-back losses in the Beaver State with a 76-49 win over conference cellar-dweller Utah on Thursday in front of 4,434 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

“This was a real confidence-booster for us,” UCLA sophomore forward David Wear said. “To have two good days of practice and to carry it into the game from practice – we wanted to play 40 minutes without any let-down.”

Heading into the matchup with the Utes, no Bruin was as blue as Joshua Smith. The hulking sophomore center admitted to being in his own head in recent games – particularly in a four-foul, four-turnover performance in a seven-point loss at Oregon last Saturday – and adding a 6-10, 315-pound behemoth to the opponent certainly can’t help UCLA.
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UCLA up 36-21 over Utah at the half

All it took to cure some of UCLA’s ills was a visit by conference cellar-dwelling Utah.

The Bruins went on a 14-4 to close the half as the team’s shooting improved down the stretch. That coincided with a concentrated effort to get Joshua Smith the ball.

Smith had a team-high nine points at the half on 3-of-4 shooting, with 3-of-5 from the free-throw line, in 10 minutes. David Wear added seven points and Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson each added five points.

UCLA’s defense improved as well, as Utah shot just 8-for-23 from the field and 3-of-9 from 3-point range. Only Chris Hines (eight points) has more than three for the Utes.

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The Young and the Restless

I tried to set up some interviews this week with UCLA’s new coaching staff, but I was rebuffed pretty quickly. “They’re pretty much all on the road,” is what I was told. Let’s just say I haven’t been told that so often in the past.

But it appears that the Bruins’ new staff is full of tireless recruiters, and the results so far have proven that to be true. UCLA has already secured the verbal commitments of 14 players since Jim Mora’s hire on Dec. 10, while losing a handful of formerly committed players, and closed the gap on some of the country’s top recruits. With less than a week until signing day, and players such as Arik Armstead, Shaq Thompson, Bryce Treggs, Kodi Whitfield and others still up in the air, Jim Mora and Co. are racking up the frequent-flyer miles.

Why?

Call it a youth movement.

As Mora’s staff started to round into form, there was a trend setting in: the assistant coaches all seemed to be around the same age. Now that the staff is complete, we have the full picture: Aside from offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and wide receivers coach Eric Yarber, all of Mora’s new coaches are between 32-44 years old, with an average age of 41.8. Consider: In 2008, Rick Neuheisel’s staff averaged 48 years old.

I’ve heard some horror stories about UCLA’s recruiting the last couple years, and the lack of emphasis put on recruiting by some of the Bruins’ elder statesmen. Ultimately, Neuheisel was left with a pretty big burden, and sometimes he succeeded and sometimes he failed. To have landed the ’09 and ’10 classes with the relative amount of help he got was a pretty big feat.

Mora, though, is no one-man army, and he recognizes that. As a first-time recruiter, he has humbled himself and accepted that so much of the game in college football is having a staff of hungry go-getters who will get out on the road and put in time to maintain relationships. In assembling a staff that is more 21 Jump Street than Matlock, Mora has brought in guys who relish some of the dirty work. Forget the ties formed between coach and recruit at each of the coach’s previous schools – relationships that have paid off handsomely for the Bruins – the coaches have been hustling.

As I’ve written before, I’ve always thought that one of Neuheisel’s biggest issues was his staff make-up. How is there supposed to be real staff chemistry when half the room is 55-plus, and the other half is under 38? One of the themes consistently mentioned by recruits in recent weeks is the team effort that UCLA is utilizing in recruiting, with Adrian Klemm, Eric Yarber, Angus McClure and Demetrice Martin frequently mentioned by recruits.

Here’s a breakdown of the new staff and their respective ages.

Head Coach: Jim L. Mora – 50
Offensive Coordinator: Noel Mazzone – 54
Defensive Coordinator: Lou Spanos – 40
Offensive Line: Adrian Klemm – 34
Running Backs: Steve Broussard – 44
Wide Receivers: Eric Yarber – 48
Tight Ends: Marques Tuiasosopo – 32
Defensive Line: Angus McClure – 44
Linebackers/Special Teams: Jeff Ulbrich – 34
Defensive Backs: Demetrice Martin – 38

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