UCLA at Stanford: Halftime update

UCLA has bounced back well in its first 20 minutes of play after the debacle at Cal.

The Bruins hold a 43-38 lead over Stanford that would be larger if not for their nine turnovers — many of which were unforced. UCLA is dictating the pace of the game so far, and has shot well (53.3 percent from the field, and 4 of 8 from the arc) while holding the Cardinal to 41.7 percent.

Most impressive is the team’s 20-13 edge on the boards. Ben Howland said this week that the guards need to contribute more there, and they have so far: Jordan Adams, Larry Drew II and Norman Powell have combined for six rebounds, and six Bruins have double-digit boards.

They had won the battle on the glass just once in the past seven games.

Jordan Adams has a game-high 11 points, finishing off the half with a nice baseline drive and buzzer-beating layup. Shabazz Muhammad has 10 points and missed just one of his five shots.

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Bruins slipping in Pac-12 race

Wasn’t the Pac-12 supposed to be better this year?

After Arizona’s loss at Colorado, Oregon is alone in the lead again at 9-3. If the Ducks don’t sweep their final six games, the conference champion will have at least four losses for the fifth straight year. Yes, the conference could get four teams in the NCAA tournament, but year-to-year improvement is still coming at snail’s pace.

Meanwhile, UCLA is slipping close to another embarrassing milestone: finishing with a worse conference record than USC for the first time since Ben Howland’s first season in Los Angeles.

Here are the current standings, clipped from Pac-12.com.

The Bruins last finished below the Trojans in 2003-04, when they had seven Pac-10 wins to USC’s eight. (Both had 8-10 records in 2009-10, but USC took the tiebreaker with two head-to-head victories.) Only one game separates the two teams now; if the Trojans beat Cal and UCLA loses at Stanford, they’ll be tied heading into a Feb. 24 rematch at the Galen Center. In 10 days, UCLA could very well be looking up at its crosstown rival.

Will that happen? For what it’s worth, Ken Pomeroy currently has UCLA losing three more games — Stanford, USC, Arizona — finishing at 11-7 for the second straight year. However, the latter two games are almost statistical coin-flips: the Bruins have a 48 percent chance of beating the Trojans and 44 percent of beating the Wildcats. (He has the Trojans finishing 10-8 after losing to both Washington schools.)

Pomeroy’s numbers-crunching only gives UCLA more than a 57 percent chance at winning one game — ASU, pegged right now at 75 percent. Basically, the rest of the season is a toss-up.

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Cal 76, UCLA 63

UCLA basketball is clearly set on one task: to make choosing its worst game as hard as possible.

The Bruins’ 76-63 loss at Cal probably doesn’t beat out their early-season faceplant to Cal Poly, but it belongs in the conversation. UCLA was unsightly through the first half, going without a free throw and — until the final minutes of the period — nearly being outscored by the Bears’ star swingman Allen Crabbe. Before the break, the Bruins shot a hair above 30 percent and trailed by as much as 28.

Ben Howland and his players constantly acknowledge that they need to hit the boards harder, hold their blockouts longer. Rarely is an explanation given other than lack of effort or focus. Yet, UCLA was abused on the glass by forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish — both wiry specimens who aren’t listed above 235 pounds. The pair combined for 21 rebounds and 35 points, with Kravish scoring a career-high 18.

Cal finished with a 41-33 edge on the boards, the sixth time in seven games that UCLA has trailed by at least eight rebounds. The Bears, who entered the game relying on Crabbe and point guard Justin Cobbs for over 50 percent of their scoring output, dominated the Bruins with 46-20 points in the paint. Continue reading

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UCLA at Cal: Halftime update

UCLA is playing its worst basketball of the season, and is down 47-22 at the half against Cal. The win over Washington State now looks like an illusion cast by the Cougars’ own ineptitude, as the Bruins’ offense is again finding new lows. Barring an insanely hot-shooting second half, they’ll finish below 40 percent from the field for the fourth time in five games.

The Bears are crushing UCLA in just about every statistical category. Cal has four players in double figures; UCLA doesn’t have one with more than six points. Cal has 24 rebounds to UCLA’s 14; 26 points in the paint to UCLA’s 10; 8 second-chance points to four; 10 points off turnovers to two.

The Bruins are shooting 30.3 percent while Cal just can’t miss (58.8). The last time UCLA shot below 30 percent was during a 65-55 loss to USC on March 13, 2009 — one in which the sixth-seeded Trojans bounced the second-seeded Bruins.

UCLA still hasn’t taken a free throw tonight.

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UCLA at Cal: What to Watch

UCLA (18-5, 8-3) at Cal (14-9, 6-5)
Tipoff: 6 p.m., Haas Pavilion
TV/Radio: ESPN2/AM 570

At a glance: The last time UCLA saw Cal, the Bears were inking a slot in the NIT. Mike Montgomery’s team arrived at Pauley Pavilion three days into the new year, and proceeded to miss all 13 of its 3-point shots. Combined with another 0-fer performance against Harvard a week prior, Cal left Westwood with an ignominious streak of 19 long-range misses and a 79-65.

The Bears are looking better as of late, having knocked off both Oregon and Arizona in their past three games. Taking down top-10 teams isn’t a bad way to get your first two wins of the season against top-100 RPI opponents, and in doing so, Cal has managed to inject some faint NCAA tournament hopes into a season that was looking like the worst of Montgomery’s five-year tenure.

“His teams have always improved throughout the year and this team’s no exception,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said of Montgomery.

Added UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad: “They’re looking really good. We played them down here and they didn’t play as well. We didn’t play as well either. We’re really going to be ready for them.” Continue reading

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Jones still drawing pre-NFL combine raves

UCLA hasn’t produced a first-round NFL draft pick since Marcedes Lewis went 28th overall in 2006. Will Datone Jones break that drought?

Since the Senior Bowl, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman has generated some of the most positive chatter among draftniks. Here’s the latest from NFL.com, where Bucky Brooks pegged him as one of three defenders with the potential to make an immediate impact.

Looking at Jones’ game, it’s apparent that his combination of first-step quickness and power is what gives opponents problems at the line. Jones is simply too quick for lumbering interior blockers to handle without assistance from the center. He complements this quickness with explosive strength, allowing him to win with power or finesse on the inside.

Continue reading

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Elder commits to Miami

For anyone still holding out hope that Cornelius Elder would commit to UCLA, he’s on his way to Miami after the school offered him a football scholarship this morning. He accepted on the spot and will also play basketball for the Hurricanes. Tennessee’s two-time Mr. Football (Division II-AA) led the Ensworth School to three straight titles, but might rely on his quickness too much to be an every-down back.

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Pac-12 Power Rankings — 2/12/13

1. Arizona (20-3, 8-3) — Did anyone care that the Wildcats lost to Cal? Arizona is still No. 9 in the AP Poll, 7 in RPI, 14 in Sagarin and 15 in Pomeroy. Top-10 teams have suffered worse stumbles this year.

2. UCLA (18-6, 8-3) — Sweeping the Washington schools at home wasn’t overly impressive, but no one in the Pac-12 looks solid right now. The Bruins may be inconsistent, but they dismissed WSU with relative ease and snapped out of a three-game shooting slump — shooting over 60 percent for the first time since 2010.

3. Arizona State (18-6, 7-4) — Is ASU due for a fall? The Sun Devils have allowed each of its last three opponents to shoot at least 47 percent from the field. In the nine games prior, they held six opponents to below 40. Jordan Bachynski has vanished since his 22-and-15 outburst against UCLA, averaging 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds since. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 2/9/13 Answers

Q: With no clearly dominant team in NCAA basketball this year, the Bruins could possibly make a deep run into the tourney. Lets say they win it all (I know, I know), but lets just say they do. What becomes of the fan base that is so discordant?

A: Celebrate? I can’t imagine a national title not dissolving virtually all criticism. Bill Walton might even buy Ben Howland a round.

Q: Shouldn’t Xavier Su’a Filo be considered the starting left tackle next year? He started at LT his freshman season and was great. And with one year under his belt after his Mormon mission, I think he would be ready to anchor the O-line.

A: Xavier Su’a-Filo is arguably the best lineman in the Pac-12 and could play pretty much anywhere, but yes, a move back to left tackle could be ideal. Whether or not it happens likely depends on how the rest of the linemen perform through camp, particularly the seven incoming freshmen. Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch — or another name — could potentially lock down guard spots.

Q: I’m intrigued by Malcolm Jones’ alleged willingness to return as a walk-on. Continue reading

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