UCLA adjusts to shooting in cavernous NRG Stadium

UCLA arrived in Houston last night, and shot around for about an hour or so this morning at NRG Stadium. Formerly known as Reliant Stadium, the football venue can seat up to 80,000 people — absolutely dwarfing any other place the Bruins have played this season.

Will that set-up affect how players shoot?

“You get to go out there and you see how big the stadium is,” said point guard Bryce Alford. “The scoreboard is huge. The court is elevated. All that stuff. It’s what you dream of when you’re a kid, playing in a venue like this. …

“You got to get used to the shooting. It’s definitely different, but they’ve done a great job of making the background darker. There’s black (canvas) behind both hoops. So, I don’t think it will be too much different than shooting in a normal gym.”

In case you missed anything, here’s a roundup of our UCLA-Gonzaga coverage so far this week: Continue reading

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Q&A: March Madness edition — 3/24/15 Answers

Q: What is the over/under on the number of times CBS/Tru/ESPN will reference “Heart….Break….City” between Wednesday and game time?

A: My very scientific analysis puts it at 27.

Q: Snowball’s chance in hell of beating Gonzaga, a team which Mark Few states is the best he has coached?

A: kenpom.com gives UCLA a 23 percent chance of pulling the upset, which feels right to me. I don’t think the Bruins really have an answer for Kyle Wiltjer, though.

Q: Do you lend credence to the sentiment UCLA should not have been selected to participate in this year’s tourney?

A: Talking purely about the quality of basketball the Bruins were playing at the end of the season, I think it’s clear they deserved to be in the field. But there were clear questions about their overall resume — particularly their inability to win on the road — which is why I, like many others, didn’t think they would actually earn a spot come Selection Sunday.

I think UCLA proved it deserved a spot by beating SMU. Goaltending call or not, the Bruins outplayed the Mustangs for most of the game before giving up 19 unanswered points. (Still crazy to look at that number!) Beating UAB isn’t particularly impressive since the Bruins were so much more talented, but you do what you need to get to the Sweet 16.

Q: Playing the “what if” game: What if the goaltending wasn’t called? SMU tips the shot ball by Alford, and Kevon Looney gets the rebound. Continue reading

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Former UCLA coach Ben Howland to land at Mississippi State

Two years after he was fired by UCLA, Ben Howland is set to return to coaching. Multiple reports indicated today that the 57-year-old has reached an agreement with Mississippi State — a program that has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

ESPN was the first of multiple outlets to report the news today.

The architect of three straight Final Four runs in Westwood, Howland was nevertheless fired after missing the tournament in two of his last five seasons. His name emerged for other job openings last offseason, including Marquette and Oregon State, but nothing worked out.

“I wish I had taken one of the jobs I turned down last spring,” he told USA Today earlier this year. “I miss it so bad.”

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UCLA will meet Gonzaga in Sweet 16, nine years after Adam Morrison

“HEART. BREAK. CITY!”

It’s almost been a decade since Gus Johnson yelled out those words on the broadcast of UCLA’s 73-71 comeback win over Gonzaga. On the brink of losing in the Sweet 16, those Bruins somehow stormed back from a 17-point deficit against the Bulldogs and Adam Morrison, the Oscar Robertson Trophy winner. The moment has been enshrined as one of the classics of March Madness.

Morrison returned to school and became a student assistant on Mark Few’s staff in 2013.

I’m guessing he didn’t imagine seeing a rematch in this year’s Sweet 16. No. 11-seed UCLA and second-seeded Gonzaga will tip off Friday at 4:15 p.m. PT in Houston’s NRG Stadium. The Bruins opened as a 9.5-point underdog.

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