Arizona is UCLA’s last and best chance to alter perception


The UCLA men’s basketball team has all but eliminated itself from contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bruins were projected as a No. 4 seed two weeks ago when the NCAA tournament committee released a preliminary bracket – even after defeating Oregon.

It may well be playing for a No. 2 seed Saturday night, not to mention a spot in the West region. UCLA’s last and best opportunity to alter the perception of itself is Saturday’s game at Arizona in a building where the Wildcats have won 21 consecutive games.

READ: Preview of No. 5 UCLA at No. 4 Arizona.

Between Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, only one will stay in the geographically friendly West region. If UCLA loses its second consecutive game to Arizona, it will likely be third in line when it comes to the NCAA tournament committee’s Pac-12 preferences. The conference tournament, of course, presents opportunities. But there is no bigger chance to impress the committee than a true road victory at the McKale Center.

It has been a long time since UCLA and Arizona met while each was an elite team. This is the first time since 1999 the Pac-12’s flagship programs have played each other as top 10 teams. The Bruins chance to catch Arizona in the race for the Pac-12 regular season title – or Oregon, for that matter – appears to be gone. Nonetheless, this remains one of the biggest games of the Steve Alford era.

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As TJ Leaf goes, so goes the UCLA basketball team


The UCLA basketball team unquestionably revolves around Lonzo Ball. But a case can be made that the Bruins’ fate is tied more closely to its other freshman star.

For example, during UCLA’s back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC, Leaf averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds. During the winning streak the Bruins stretched to six games with an 87-75 win over Arizona State last night, Leaf is averaging 19.5 points and 9.2 rebounds.

Leaf led UCLA with 25 points and nine rebounds against Arizona State on a night where Ball put a scare into the UCLA fan base when he landed on Isaac Hamilton’s foot trying to block a shot in the first half. After limping into the locker room, he returned before the end of the half and coach Steve Alford said Ball is expected to be fine for Saturday’s mammoth game at Arizona.

Ball’s four points last night represented his lowest total this season. But he impacts the game in so many ways – he had 11 rebounds and five assists last night – that he has been a significant factor in each and every contest this season. Ball was UCLA’s leading scorer in its loss to Arizona Jan. 21 and he still managed 15 points and 10 rebounds despite a season-high 7 turnovers in the loss at USC Jan. 25.

In part due to the nature of his position and UCLA’s style slanted toward guard play, Leaf has been lost in the fray a few times. Continue reading

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History says UCLA doomed by defense, but no precedent exists for its offense

No team in the last 10 years has made the Final Four with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking worse than 88th, per kenpom.com. UCLA ranks 117th.

The UCLA basketball team’s offense, which will probably be the most efficient in the country wire-to-wire this season, was roundly celebrated for the first 20 games of the season. The narrative shifted a month ago when two losses sparked widespread criticism of a defense that history strongly suggests isn’t good enough to make the Final Four, let alone win a national championship.

The next question in the cycle: Is UCLA’s offense so historically good, it can overcome deficiencies on defense this significant?

With just four games left in the regular season, beginning with tonight’s contest at Arizona State, the No. 5 Bruins have sustained some offensive numbers that require a deep dive into the archives for comparison.

READ: No. 5 UCLA to test defensive progress against Arizona State’s firepower

UCLA’s nation-leading field goal percentage (53.3%) is a mark that hasn’t been achieved since Duke’s 1992 national championship team shot 53.6 percent for the season. That was a Grant Hill-Christian Laettner-Bobby Hurley team making its third straight appearance in the national championship game. Pretty good company.

UCLA’s nation-leading 21.7 assists per game is the highest number in college basketball since 1991, when UNLV set the Division-I record with 24.7 on its way to the Final Four. That was Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels squad featuring Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon, all of whom went in the top 12 picks of the NBA draft later that year.

In relation to the field it will face in this season’s NCAA tournament, UCLA remains No. 1 in the country in scoring offense (92.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and No. 2 in 3-point field goal percentage (42.1%).

Those offensive numbers, however, seemingly need to be historically special considering what UCLA must overcome. Continue reading

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UCLA football links: Jim Mora talks to Bruin Report Online

UCLA head coach Jim Mora watches over his team during football practice on the campus intramural field Wednesday, August 10, 2016, Westwood, CA. Photo by Steve McCrank/Staff Photographer)

Bruin Report Online’s Tracy Pierson spoke with UCLA head coach Jim Mora in the coach’s office about variety of topics, including the upcoming Under Armour contract, the impact of the new Wasserman Football Center and the revamped coaching staff.

He reaffirmed that given the opportunity, he “never wants to leave” UCLA. He had similar comments in January when he spoke to the media soon after hiring offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

Mora also accepted “all the blame” for last year’s offensive failure, saying that he “miscalculated,” especially how the scheme fit the personnel. He added that he did a “poor job” of executing the vision he had for the offense.

Other links:

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Lonzo Ball’s odd shooting form becoming a hot topic


The closer Lonzo Ball gets to June’s NBA draft, the more his unconventional shooting form is discussed. The list of stories about his shot is growing even before it will assuredly explode in the offseason.

Add the Wall Street Journal to the list. WSJ’s Ben Cohen wrote a piece today about The Ugly Beauty of Lonzo Ball’s shot. So far the consensus seems to be that Ball’s shot may look broken, but his shooting percentage suggests it doesn’t need fixing. CBS staff writer Matt Norlander came to that conclusion in his story a month ago.

I wrote an extensive piece two months ago about the evolution of Ball’s shot, including an experiment he conducted over the summer with conventional form while UCLA played a series of exhibition games against professional Australian teams. Ball’s conclusion? His old form works just fine. And he doesn’t plan to change it once he gets to the NBA. Continue reading

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