Steve Alford looked like he might make it all the way to mid-court – while the game was ongoing. The UCLA basketball coach clapped fiercely at his team early in Saturday’s second half, unaware of his surroundings but plenty cognizant of his team’s destination in the Pac-12 standings.
UCLA earned a redemptive 102-70 win over rival USC Saturday night that was significant for so many reasons. The Bruins avoided a fifth consecutive loss to their rival, which would have been its longest streak since the late 1940s. It avenged the ugliest mark on its NCAA tournament resume, an 84-76 loss to the Trojans on Jan. 25. The Bruins created a divide in the conference standings, above which it sits with only Oregon and Arizona. And UCLA proved against a competent basketball team that it may be playing its best basketball of the season at the best time.
The Bruins’ offense, the highest scoring and most efficient in the country, is back in fifth gear. And their defense is making strides that can’t be ignored. A date at Arizona awaits on Feb. 25, but so far UCLA has avenged two of its three losses this season, none sweeter than Saturday night’s shellacking of its crosstown rival.
Links from tonight’s coverage:
Game story: UCLA embarrasses USC, ends losing streak at four
Jeff Miller: UCLA and USC ready for something bigger
Scott Wolf: USC loses opportunity to gain national respect
Bennie Boatwright’s return wasn’t enough for USC
Notebook: UCLA’s attendance its best in 19 years
Photo Gallery: The many faces of Bryce Alford
Video: Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf on 32-point win
Video: Bryce Alford on his “Kobe face”
Video: Steve Alford on growth since last loss to USC
How will the return of USC’s best player, 6-foot-10 Bennie Boatwright, change the successful formula it employed against UCLA without him three weeks ago?
What does it mean for tonight’s matchup that UCLA’s sub-par defensive efficiency actually improved during the loss to USC this season?
Should the Bruins feel better about tonight knowing the worst game of the season for the nation’s most efficient offense was the larger reason for its loss to USC on Jan. 25?
Are we to believe UCLA coach Steve Alford when he said his team was tired entering its last game against USC because it was the first Pac-12 team to play a conference game and the last to get a bye, which followed its loss to USC?
USC’s 84-76 defeat of UCLA on Jan. 25 at Galen Center is the Bruins’ most confounding loss of the season. Entering tonight’s rematch at Pauley Pavilion, the number of questions dwarf the number of answers for a game with high stakes for both teams. So, let’s just ask them.
READ: Preview story for No. 6 UCLA vs USC
Is it more likely that the Bruins were mentally fatigued from carrying the expectations likely inflated by the entertaining style courtesy of Lonzo Ball, who drew even more attention to the program as one of the most exciting players in the country?
How will a UCLA team with the fourth-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country respond if USC again employs the zone defense that gave it fits Jan. 25? Continue reading
Freshman point guard Lonzo Ball said the UCLA coaching staff hasn’t tried to dissuade him from shooting well behind the 19-foot, 9-inch 3-point line
Lonzo Ball took the most important shot of the UCLA basketball team’s season last week – when he was 30 feet from the basket. As a reference point, the college 3-point line is 19 feet, 9 inches. The NBA line is four feet beyond that.
The analytics movement promotes 3-pointers, but how does the Bruins’ coaching staff feel about Ball hoisting shots from 30 feet?
“As long as they’re going in,” Ball said, “they don’t really care.”
With 32 seconds left against Oregon, Ball’s step-back, contested 30-footer touched nothing but the bottom of the net. It was the decisive basket in UCLA’s 82-79 win a week ago over then-No. 5 Oregon.
Twenty-six games into his college career, Ball is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Steve Alford learned of Ball’s penchant for 3-pointers from NBA range and beyond while recruiting him at Chino Hills High School more than three years ago. The UCLA coach never tried to rein in his freshman point guard, said he never had a reason to.
“As far out as they can go to where they consistently make them, I’m fine with,” Alford said. “Lonzo has always had that ability. He’s kind of grown up in high school and he’s had that ability. Now you’ve got to pick and choose and I think he’s done a very good job this year of understanding the ebb and flow of the game of when to do that and when not to do it.”
Ball’s go-to shot with the clock winding down has been the deep, step-back 3-pointer. Continue reading
Eddie Vanderdoes (47) talks with Kenny Young (42) at practice. Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze
Five former UCLA football players received invites to his month’s NFL Combine, the NFL announced Wednesday: linebacker Jayon Brown, offensive lineman Conor McDermott, defensive end Takkarist McKinley, defensive back Fabian Moreau and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.
The combine begins Feb. 28 in Indianapolis with 330 total participants.
McKinley is a potential late first-round draft pick by many mock drafts after he led the Bruins in sacks and tackles for loss last year.
Vanderdoes was the only player to declare for the NFL draft early this season after the redshirt junior came back from an ACL injury and started 12 games with 29 tackles against constant double teams. Going into the Senior Bowl, Vanderdoes told Sports Illustrated that he had lost 20 pounds since the end of the UCLA season when he played at 340 pounds.
An impressive showing at the East-West Shrine Game helped Moreau boost his draft stock as NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he was “not going to be shocked if Moreau goes in the first round.” He was the No. 47 prospect in Jeremiah’s top-50 list last week.