Steve Alford gave a few updates on No. 22 UCLA before the team left campus for a flight to New York City. The Bruins are slated to play No. 11 North Carolina on Saturday at 10 a.m. PT at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
» Center Thomas Welsh and reserve guard Prince Ali have a chance to return this weekend after sitting out Tuesday night’s win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Welsh, who was out with a stomach virus, looked better this morning and appears on track to suit up on Saturday. Ali, who suffered a bone bruise on his left knee against Gonzaga last weekend, remains day to day.
“It’ll be how he feels,” Alford said. “I think he feels a little bit better today. But he hasn’t done any running and jumping.”
» North Carolina suffered a big loss two days ago, when 6-foot-10, 260-pound forward Kennedy Meeks was diagnosed with a bone bruise that will sideline him for at least two weeks. The junior leads the team with 12 blocks, and is second with 13 steals.
His absence could be a boon for UCLA big man Tony Parker, who bullied Gonzaga in the paint last Saturday to make his first eight shots of the game.
The Tar Heels could adjust by sliding Brice Johnson (6-10, 230) over and moving Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 235) into the starting lineup, or simply moving Joel James into Meeks’ vacated spot. James is only averaging eight minutes off the bench as a senior, but has a 6-foot-11, 280-pound frame that may be better suited to defend Parker.
“They’re either going to rotate another big in,” Alford said, “or another guard that’s going to be 6-6, 6-7, and continue to be able to play at a high level of speed. But obviously, (Meeks is) a very talented kid.”
» UCLA’s game against UNC marks the end of its toughest stretch of nonconference opponents, a scheduling philosophy that has become one of the trademarks of the Alford-coached Bruins. The coach credited that strategy as one of the reasons for his team’s growth.
“We want to make sure we’re playing a top-notch schedule,” he said. “I think the fans want that, but our players want that. I may snicker about it, but I like it too.
“I liked it as a player, and I’ve always liked it as a coach, playing good competition. I think it’s easier from a coaching standpoint to get a really good barometer of where we’re at.”