Barr returning for senior season

Happy new year, UCLA fans. Anthony Barr is officially staying one more season.

The Bruins’ best defensive player became an All-Pac-12 first team selection in just his first season at outside linebacker, and was also a second-team AP All-American. The junior was widely thought of as a potential first-round pick had he decided to declare for the NFL Draft.

Barr first officially announced his return on Twitter Monday afternoon: “As close as I am to my dream of playing in the NFL, I believe one more year with this awesome coaching staff and my teammates is what’s best. I will be returning for my senior season to further develop as a player and a person, to help lead this team to a Pac-12 Championship and ultimately a national championship.”

Measuring at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Barr made a remarkable transformation after switching from offense under former head coach Rick Neuheisel. Continue reading

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Shabazz named Pac-12 Player of the Week, Bruins still unranked

Shabazz Muhammad was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after his 27 points against Missouri — which dropped from No. 7 to No. 12 after the upset at Pauley Pavilion. The freshman’s standout performance that included two key 3-pointers in overtime. It’s the first such honor for the Bruins since Lazeric Jones got it in March. Still, the Bruins surprisingly weren’t able to crack the AP poll: they got six votes, which would put them at No. 34. No. 3 Arizona is the conference’s only ranked team. Colorado received three votes.

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Christian Morris iffy on UCLA commitment

On Dec. 22, four-star offensive tackle Christian Morris tweeted this: “Recruitment is completely shutdown no interest in other colleges strictly with my #Bruins 100% that don’t mean I’m burning my bridges.”

That no longer looks to be the case. At the Army All-American Bowl yesterday, Morris told Rivals that he will take an official visit to Tennessee, and likely Oklahoma as well. He likes the Vols’ hire of Cincinnati’s Butch Jones and plans to visit Knoxville on the weekend of Jan. 11. He added that he is still “97 percent” committed to the Bruins.

Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has been destroying the recruiting trail in recent months, and Morris was a solid addition — a 6-foot-6, 293-pound tackle that had a shot at playing immediately. Still, teenagers are indecisive and it doesn’t look like panic time yet for UCLA fans.

Watching the Bruins lose 49-26 on ESPN (and on his birthday!) may have prompted Morris’ wavering, but so could family issues. The Memphis native also tweeted that his aunt had been diagnosed with cancer on Christmas.

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Weekly Q&A — 12/29/12 Answers

Q: Do you expect a leap in the growth of Brett Hundley between year one and two of his playing career at UCLA?

A: Yes. He still looks like UCLA’s best draft prospect in years, and there’s no reason why he won’t improve over the next eight months. The most glaring flaw is his tendency to hold on to the ball for too long, but that’s fixable. Noel Mazzone and his son Taylor have shown success grooming quarterbacks in the past. Talent surrounding him should help a bit too, although no one back will adequately replace Johnathan Franklin. The offensive line will almost certainly improve. Joe Fauria is gone, but next year’s receiving corps should have some depth, particularly with the addition of Eldridge Massington.

Q: What round do you see Johnathan Franklin getting chosen in? Do you think his reputation of fumbling in his earlier years will hurt his status?

A: He could go as high as the third round, but is probably the safest bet for fourth or fifth. Continue reading

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‘Tui’ leaves to become Washington QB coach

Marques Tuiasosopo will become Washington’s quarterbacks coach, the school announced Saturday. Contract negotiations are not yet finalized, but UCLA’s Y receivers coach will head back to his alma mater, where he will likely double his pay.

Tuiasosopo is a Husky legend who led Washington its last Rose Bowl win and was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2000. He was also the first player in NCAA history to pass for 300 yards and run for 200 in the same game.

He made $100,000 at UCLA (via USA Today). The two assistants who recently left Washington, running backs coach Joel Thomas and wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, each made just over $190,000 this year.

His father, Manu, was an all-conference defensive lineman for the Bruins in the late 1970s. Continue reading

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UCLA 97, Missouri 94 (OT): Have the Bruins arrived?

Yes, if your expectations aren’t a Final Four. In just one month since the face-plant against Cal Poly, UCLA has staged a slow, remarkable turnaround that culminated with the upset of the No. 7 Tigers — easily the Bruins’ biggest win of the season. (Missouri was technically a slight underdog in Vegas, but come on.)

They’ll pop back into the AP poll next week, after a win that cemented the key to saving Ben Howland’s job: letting go. This team might get incrementally better on defense, but it just doesn’t have the raw ability to ever play man the way Howland likes. But as Shabazz Muhammad said earlier this season, this team needs to up its pace and run fewer set plays. Let its freshmen freestyle on the run and hope they can outscore the other team on most nights.

That plan won’t result in 58.6 percent second-half shooting every night — how often are the Wears going to combine for 38 points? — but the Pac-12 only has one team (Arizona) that’s clearly better than the Tigers.

The high-end for this team could look something like last year’s Missouri squad, one that earned a No. 2 seed before being knocked out in the first round.

“This was a huge win for us especially going into conference play,” Travis Wear said. “To be going in with this type of momentum is awesome.”

Key Players: Shabazz Muhammad, for showing off a killer instinct in drilling two crucial 3-pointers in overtime. The second one, which gave the Bruins a 95-93 lead, was a particularly impressive offensive set: UCLA was patient as it swung the ball around the perimeter, with Kyle Anderson smartly passing up an OK 3-point look before giving the ball to Larry Drew for the eventual assist. Continue reading

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UCLA vs. Missouri: What to Watch

For some inexplicable reason, UCLA opened as a 2.5-point favorite over No. 7 Missouri, whose only loss came against No. 4 Louisville. Part of that might have to do with the 7 p.m. game being the Tigers first true road game this year, but the Bruins haven’t been close to showing they’re a top-10 caliber team.

What’s at stake: After faltering against San Diego State, UCLA has one last chance to bolster its postseason resume as it prepares to enter Pac-12 play on Jan. 3. A five-game winning streak would likely vault them back into the rankings as well, and keep Ben Howland’s job a little safer.

“It would definitely be a huge win for our current season,” said point guard Larry Drew II. “At this point, I think a win over anybody, everybody at this point would be good.”

Added freshman Kyle Anderson: “It’s a real big test for us. Missouri’s a great team. They’re a top-10 team. We’ve gotten better than the last time we played a top-25 team. We wanna see where we stand.”

At a glance: It’s really hard to see how the Bruins will defend a team as athletic as Missouri, so they’ll likely have to score at least 80 points to win. Ken Pomeroy still has UCLA as the 12th most efficient offensive team in the country, and the freshman trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams have started to gel more in recent games. Continue reading

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Holiday Bowl: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

Well, that was certainly an ugly game.

What went wrong: Just about everything, but the most glaring was the porous offensive line. Jake Brendel and Torian White both left the game in the first half with high ankle sprains, which forced Brett Downey into his first action in months. Simon Goines also played sparingly, still bugged by a bad right knee. He’ll undergo surgery in the next week or so.

“I think Baylor recognized that we were down, not a man, but two men, and they pinned their ears back and came at us,” head coach Jim Mora said. “It was working. When it’s working and going effectively, you stay with it. We’ve got to build depth at that position and that’s one of our goals.”

Brett Hundley set a UCLA bowl appearance record with 50 pass attempts, which really underscores how one-dimensional the Bruins’ offense looked at Qualcomm Stadium. His previous high was 47 in the 43-17 loss to Cal. In nine wins this season, Hundley averaged 30 attempts. Continue reading

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