Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf focused on NCAA, not Pac-12 title

No. 10 UCLA trails No. 5 Oregon by two games in the Pac-12 standings.

Two days before a game the UCLA basketball team seemingly needs to win to retain hope for a Pac-12 regular season championship, the Bruins’ two best players said they were more focused on a larger goal.

No. 10 UCLA will host No. 5 Oregon on Thursday trailing the Ducks by two games in the conference standings, but Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are more concerned about how the game effects their preparation for the NCAA tournament.

“Since the beginning of the season the focus was to win a national championship, not the Pac-12 title,” Ball said. “We’re just trying to get ready for March.”

Oregon handed UCLA its first loss of the season on Dec. 28 when Dillon Brooks made a 3-pointer with .08 seconds left in the Ducks’ 89-87 win in Eugene, Ore. UCLA proceeded to lose three of its first nine Pac-12 games, making a conference title difficult to achieve with Arizona and Oregon having lost just one conference game apiece with seven remaining.

The freshman duo of Ball and Leaf was downplaying the rematch when speaking with the media on Tuesday. Continue reading

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How I voted in the men’s basketball AP poll: UCLA moves up

After a one-week hiatus, UCLA returned to the top 10 of the Associated Press poll

UCLA’s ceiling in the polls appears to have been lowered by its loss to USC. Despite seven combined losses in the top 10 last week, the Bruins’ 2-0 week earned them a single spot.

Maybe UCLA has officially been branded as a team that can’t play defense at a high enough level. Or once the shine came off the best offensive team in the country, voters are taking a harder look at a schedule that has limited UCLA’s RPI to No. 23.

I’m giving UCLA more credit than most voters, but awaiting the Bruins on Thursday is one of two remaining chances in the regular season to have a significant positive effect on its standing. Despite a loss to Colorado two weeks ago and a one-point win over Arizona State last week, Oregon got plenty of respect for its 27-point win over Arizona on Saturday.

The Ducks jumped eight spots and finally returned to the Associated Press poll’s top five. During a week where the AP top 10 posted a combined record of 12-7, three teams fell out of the top 10. UCLA was one of the three that was voted into the top 10, but the other two leapfrogged the Bruins. Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia fell out. Oregon, North Carolina and UCLA moved in.

North Carolina has one more loss than the Bruins, but its RPI is 4 compared to UCLA’s lowly 23. Until the Bruins beat one of the best two teams in their own conference, UCLA will continue to be passed over by teams from other conferences even if the Bruins have a better record.

How I voted in the men’s basketball Week 14 AP poll:
1. Gonzaga
2. Villanova
3. Kansas
4. Baylor
5. Oregon

Even with Dillon Brooks back in the lineup, the Ducks have been all over the map of late, but a 27-point win over Arizona is too strong of a statement to discount in any way. Oregon has now snapped a 13-game UCLA winning streak and a 15-game Arizona winning streak this season.
6. Arizona
The fact that Arizona lost to Oregon isn’t shocking in itself, but the 27-point margin was difficult to digest. The Wildcats were probably playing the most consistent basketball in the country with Allonzo Trier back in the lineup, but their 15-game winning streak ended with a thud.
The Bruins looked so lost while being defeated at USC two weeks ago that simply earning two road wins last week went a long way toward restoring credibility. UCLA’s RPI is still lagging at No. 22 in the country, but a massive opportunity awaits the Bruins when Oregon comes to town Thursday.
8. Louisville
9. North Carolina
10. Florida State Continue reading

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UCLA routs Washington as Lonzo Ball wins duel with Markelle Fultz

Lonzo Ball versus Markelle Fultz was the only dramatic aspect of UCLA’s 107-66 win at Washington. The No. 11 Bruins, who figure to move up in the rankings after another chaotic weekend in the top 10, ran away early with a game they eventually led by 44 in the closing minutes.

Fultz and Ball, the focus of 21 NBA scouts in attendance for Alaska Airlines Arena’s first sellout in five years, were the game’s two leading scorers with 25 and 22 points, respectively. Ball made 7 of 12 field goals and added six rebounds and five assists. Fultz was 9 of 19 from the field with six rebounds and five assists.

The difference was three other UCLA players with at least 20 points. Bryce Alford had 21 and TJ Leaf and Aaron Holiday had 20 apiece. Fultz had little help from his friends in coach Lorenzo Romar’s most lopsided loss in his 15 seasons at Washington.

The blowout gave the Bruins their 21st win earlier than any other season in school history. The victory sets up a matchup on Thursday with Oregon at Pauley Pavilion with massive implications in the Pac-12 race.

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UCLA-Washington pits nation’s top two point guards

Freshman point guards Lonzo Ball of UCLA and Markelle Fultz of Washington are projected to be the top two picks in the 2017 NBA draft (USA Today images)

The UCLA men’s basketball team isn’t looking past anybody. Not after losing consecutive conference games and three of its first six in the Pac-12.

But considering the lopsided records of the No. 11 Bruins (20-3, 7-3) and Washington (9-13, 2-8) entering tonight’s game in Seattle, who could blame anyone for focusing less on the team dynamic and more on the most interesting individual matchup in the country?

DraftExpress.com projects Washington point guard Markelle Fultz as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. His UCLA counterpart, Lonzo Ball, is projected to go No. 2. The designated section for NBA scouts at Alaska Airlines Arena won’t be hard to spot.

Fultz, a 19-year-old from Maryland, has established himself as probably the most dynamic player in the country. He is lacking playmakers around him, as the Huskies’ six losses in their last seven conference games would indicate, but that makes what he has done even more impressive. His 23.1 points per game is the seventh-highest mark in the country and the highest for a power 5 conference player.

Ball, the only player in the nation averaging more than 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds, can probably appreciate Fultz’ ability to fill a stat sheet too. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Ball, Leaf, Alford, Welsh make mid-season award lists

Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are in the running for several of college basketball’s top awards

Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year
Freshman Lonzo Ball was the only UCLA representative on the 50-player preseason watch list for college basketball’s most prestigious award. The Bruins freshman point guard will almost assuredly be one of the 30 players on the mid-season watch list when it’s announced on Thursday. He was one of six Pac-12 players on the preseason list along with Waghington’s Markelle Fultz, Cal’s Ivan Rabb, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher.

As a pass-first point guard, Ball will largely be judged on UCLA’s win total and the Bruins aren’t too shabby in that department with 20 victories in their first 23 games. The 6-foot-6 freshman is the only player in the country averaging at least 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Ball’s actual averages are 14.8 points, eight assists and 5.8 rebounds.

TJ Leaf was added to the Wooden award watch list at the mid-season mark

John R. Wooden Award (Player of the Year)
Ball and classmate TJ Leaf are two of 25 to crack the mid-season watch list for an award that carries plenty of weight in Westwood – it’s sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was no surprise that Ball was among the preseason top 50 for the award. Leaf, however, was not.

The committee gave a nod to Leaf’s particularly high level of play through the freshman’s first 17 games, adding the 6-foot-10 forward to the pool of candidates on Jan. 11 while subtracting more than 25 from the preseason list. Leaf is averaging a team-high 17 points and 8.9 rebounds. He is shooting 64 percent from the field, the 19th-best mark in the country.

The complete John R. Wooden Award Mid-Season Watch List:
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, Soph., G
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, Fr., G
Joel Berry II, North Carolina, Jr., G Continue reading

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