UCLA vs. USC basketball part 2; there are more questions than answers


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.

  • 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?
    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
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    Is Steve Alford comfortable with Lonzo Ball’s 30-foot 3-pointers?

    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

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    Five Bruins invited to NFL Combine

    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.

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    UCLA football links: Talent vs. wins

    UCLA Bruins’ quarterback Josh Rosen fires a pass during the second half against Stanford Cardinal at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena on Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The recruits are signed and the next step is development.

    Athlon Sports examined the relationship between recruiting class rankings and winning in the Pac-12 over the past five seasons, finding that, predictably, higher-ranked recruiting classes generally perform better on the field.

    However, one of the underachievers was UCLA, which, based on 247Sports’ team composite rankings, had the second-best recruiting classes during the past five recruiting cycles (from 2013-17). But UCLA’s overall record in the past five seasons (2012-16) is 41-24 (0.631) and ranks fifth in the conference.

    Below is a chart plotting the recruiting rankings in the Pac-12 against each team’s overall record. The rankings, in accordance the Athlon Sports article, are based on the school’s 247Sports team composite ranking average from the past five recruiting cycles. The purple diagonal line indicates the trend. The teams under the line are general underachievers when it comes to turning talent into wins.  Continue reading

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    How I voted in the college basketball AP poll: UCLA rises again

    UCLA climbed four spots to No. 6 in Monday’s Associated Press men’s basketbal poll

    UCLA hasn’t convinced the computers, but the humans are buying in again. The Bruins’ mammoth win over Oregon on Thursday – and losses by four teams ranked ahead of them – earned them four spots in Monday’s AP poll.

    It’s undeniable that UCLA’s schedule is weak, limiting its potential to earn resume-building wins – its RPI actually dropped from 20 to 25 after beating lowly Oregon State on Sunday. But humans recognize that if UCLA is capable of beating a team of Oregon’s caliber, it doesn’t need to be heavily penalized for the upredictable element of a schedule that didn’t pan out.

    The Bruins have high quality wins over Oregon and Kentucky more than two months apart. They have remained steadily on the cusp of being great all season, but there have been limited opportunities to prove it.

    Its win over Oregon, however, earned it no favor from the NCAA tournament selection committee. Coach Steve Alford was none too pleased that UCLA was slotted as a No. 4 seed in Saturday’s preliminary bracket. If the tournament started tomorrow, I’d give UCLA a No. 2 seed and feel good about it.

    How I voted in the Week 15 AP men’s basketball poll:
    1. Gonzaga
    2. Villanova
    3. Kansas
    4. Baylor

    5. Arizona
    Arizona’s 27-point loss to Oregon Feb. 4 is such an outlier on its resume – and the Wildcats’ only loss in the last two months – that it still deserves to be a top-5 team. UCLA seems like the only team left on the schedule capable of beating the first-place team in the Pac-12.
    6. UCLA
    The Bruins so desperately needed Thursday’s win over then-No. 5 Oregon. Even with a win over the Ducks that looks like the best victory on its resume, UCLA is still struggling to get respect from the tournament committee, which projected it as a No. 4 seed. Continue reading

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