VIDEO: Steve Alford talks about UCLA’s 87-74 loss to Gonzaga

After UCLA’s 87-74 loss to No. 9 Gonzaga on Saturday, head coach Steve Alford said he was more pleased with the Bruins’ performance than he had been after Wednesday’s win against UC Riverside. UCLA staged a few comeback attempts, but never led against the Bulldogs — and tied for just 1:17.

» From Mark Whicker’s column: “UCLA seems less of a national factor than it has been in a long time, on any level, including the bright, blue and empty seats in many regions of the new Pauley, and the taken-for-granted nature of a loss like this.”

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Can UCLA get a marquee win against No. 9 Gonzaga?

UCLA hosts No. 9 Gonzaga tonight at 7:05 p.m., the first part of a tough five-game stretch that will tell everyone a lot more about what type of team Steve Alford has on his hands.

Kenpom.com currently projects the Bruins losing all five: to the Bulldogs (44% win probability), No. 1 Kentucky (12%), Alabama (44%), Colorado (44%) and Utah (27%). The latter four games are all away from Pauley Pavilion.

» Can UCLA handle Gonzaga’s big men, Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 288) and Domantas Sabonis (6-10, 231)?
» Mark Whicker looks back at UCLA’s memorable Sweet Sixteen win over Gonzaga in 2006, the last time the two teams met.
» Freshman Kevon Looney has been a consistent force inside for UCLA, and is one double-double short of the national lead.

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UCLA’s Anthony Jefferson likely won’t apply for sixth year

Anthony Jefferson missed all but three games in his first two seasons at UCLA due to foot and back injuries. But asked if he would consider applying for a sixth year of eligibility, the defensive back laughed.

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound senior has become one of the most dependable Bruins in the secondary over the last couple of seasons, moving between safety, cornerback and nickelback depending on what his team needed. He was awarded with an All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2013, followed by a second-team pick this month.

Jefferson said he’s on track to graduate at the end of this quarter, but hasn’t thought much about the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 being the final game of his collegiate career.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” he said. “Maybe when I get out there in San Antonio, but at this point, I don’t know. Not yet.”

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Brett Hundley’s finger injury won’t keep him out of Alamo Bowl

When Brett Hundley accidentally whacked his right hand against a helmet two weeks ago, his finger swelled up so much that he couldn’t finish out the end of UCLA’s 31-10 loss to Stanford.

On Friday morning, after the Bruins held their first formal practice since that regular-season finale, one of the first questions the quarterback faced was: “So can we see the finger?” Hundley smiled and held up both his hands. No one could pick out the damaged digit.

So no, it shouldn’t keep him out of the Alamo Bowl against Kansas State on Jan. 2, which will be his last game in a UCLA uniform. Continue reading

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Jeff Ulbrich reviews first season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator

Jeff Ulbrich talked at length with the media on Friday, hitting everything from what it meant for Eric Kendricks to win the Butkus Award, to Jim Mora’s long-term future at UCLA, to — of course — how he’s evaluated his first season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator.

Despite a starting lineup loaded with future pros, the Bruins have been inconsistent on defense this season, holding Arizona’s explosive offense to seven points only to allow 31 to Stanford four weeks later. It was a year that saw the 37-year-old Ulbrich take significant criticism for not generating enough of a pass rush: UCLA is tied for 85th in the country with 22 sacks, 15 of which came in the final six games.

“Guys that I’ve been around a lot (in my career), their philosophy regarding scheme and calling a game is always put the game in the players’ hands,” Ulbrich said. “Keep it simple. Be great with fundamentals and technique, alignment, assignment. Let them know it and understand it at a high level so they can play fast and physical.

“The problem is that college football’s a little different. You’re seeing so much exotic stuff on offense, that you almost have to balance that with being exotic in your own right at times just to keep them off balance. … I gained a better understanding of that as the season went on.”

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First look: No. 11 Kansas State

No. 14 UCLA Bruins (9-3, 6-3) vs. No. 11 Kansas State (9-3, 7-2)
Kickoff: Friday, Jan. 2, 3:45 p.m. PT, Alamodome (San Antonio)
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Brock Huard, Shannon Spake)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: No team is as synonymous with a single coach as Kansas State is with Bill Snyder.

The Wildcats first hired Snyder in November 1988, plucking away the 49-year-old offensive coordinator from Iowa. At that point, K-State was arguably the worst football program in the country. It was the only one to have lost 500 games, including 114 over the previous 14 years. It had reached just one bowl game, which it lost. (Fun fact: That was the 1982 Independence Bowl, the first college football game ever broadcast live on ESPN. This year, the network will air all but four of the 38 bowls.) Things were so bad that Sports Illustrated asked: “Why bother? Why send fine young men onto the field every Saturday in autumn to be humiliated?”

Snyder won just one game in his debut season, but that at least ended the program’s three-year wait (!) for No. 300 all-time. He quintupled that the following year, and by 1993, he had already pushed the Wildcats to nine wins and a top-20 finish in the AP poll. Since then, he has only ever had two more losing seasons: four- and five-win campaigns that preceded his brief retirement.

When Snyder stepped down after the 2005 season, athletic director Tim Weiser said: “No matter how successful the next person is, it’s not going to be possible to replace Bill.”

Ron Prince tried for the next three years, to the tune of a 17-20 record. And so, Snyder returned to “soothe the waters.”

Since then, Kansas State has gone 51-25 with a pair of BCS bowl appearances — both losses, but enough for the team to stay in the top 15 at year’s end. Continue reading

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UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks named Walter Camp All-American

Two days after winning the Butkus Award, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks has also become an All-American.

The senior linebacker made the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s second team on Thursday. Despite already winning the preeminent honor at his position, he fell behind three others that made the first team — two of whom he has seen on the opposite sideline: Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha, Arizona’s Scooby Wright, and TCU’s Paul Dawson.

The Walter Camp team is one of five used to determine consensus and unanimous All-American status, although those do require a first-team mention. The other teams are selected by the AFCA, FWAA, Associated Press and Sporting News.

Anthony Barr was a consensus All-American last season, missing out only on the FWAA first team. UCLA’s last unanimous All-American was Maurice Jones-Drew, who earned his nod as an all-purpose player/kick returner.

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Pac-12 Tournament tickets available for $12 on Dec. 12

For fans of numerical repetition — and of basketball, I suppose — the Pac-12 has the sale for you.

The conference announced today that tickets for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena will go on sale for $12 on Friday, Dec. 12. A limited number of those will be available for 12 hours (duh!) starting from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. PT., or as long as the supply lasts.

You can buy these at Ticketmaster using the promo code PAC1212. These are per-session tickets, which means you’ll need to buy six if you want to watch every single game. All-tournament passes also go on sale at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The Las Vegas tournament starts on March 11 and ends March 14. The same deal is available for Pac-12 women’s basketball, which will hold its competition at Seattle’s Key Arena on March 5-8.

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Jim Mora: Quarterback Brett Hundley’s finger is ‘fine’

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is “fine” after injuring his finger in the 31-10 loss to Stanford that ended the Bruins’ regular season.

Hundley injured a finger on his right hand and could not finish the game against the Cardinal. The redshirt junior had an ice pack taped to his hand afterward.

Asked about Hundley, Mora stuck to his favorite answer regarding injuries: “He’s fine.”

Mora also confirmed again that the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 will be Hundley’s final game before declaring for the NFL draft — something both the quarterback and his teammates had said before. Hundley originally stated in January that his third season with the Bruins would be his last, following his announcement that he was passing on the 2014 NFL draft.

Hundley was named to the All-Pac-12 second team this month, though his inconsistent play this season likely affected his NFL stock.

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