VIDEO: Steve Alford laments UCLA’s lack of ‘toughness’

For the second straight game at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA started slow. Against a UC Riverside squad picked to finish last in the Big West, the Bruins trailed for nearly the entire first half before eventually beating the Highlanders, 77-66.

Head coach Steve Alford attributed that to a lack of toughness, including the discipline to block out and communicate on defense.

“If we don’t develop this toughness, we’re always going to be the kind of team we are right now,” he said.

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Four-star defensive back Colin Samuel commits to UCLA

Long Beach Poly cornerback Colin Samuel committed to UCLA on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.  (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff)

Long Beach Poly cornerback Colin Samuel committed to UCLA on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff)

UCLA has landed the second defensive back in its 2015 class, as four-star defensive back Colin Samuel announced his commitment to the Bruins on Tuesday afternoon.

The Long Beach Poly corner is a physical tackler who, at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, has the type of size that UCLA’s secondary will lose after senior Anthony Jefferson plays his last game in the Alamo Bowl. Listed at 6-foot-1, 192 pounds, Jefferson is the only starter in the Bruins’ defensive backfield taller than 6-feet.

Samuel is rated the No. 34 cornerback in the country by Rivals.com, and No. 46 by Scout.com — which has him as a three-star prospect.

Poly coach Antonio Pierce told the Long Beach Press-Telegram last month that his player had developed a “nasty” streak this season. After blocking two kicks against Servite to open the CIF playoffs, Samuel received offers from Oklahoma, Mississipi State, Michigan, Purdue, and Washington State within three days.

Three-star cornerback Will Lockett is also committed to UCLA.

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VIDEO: Steve Alford talks about UCLA’s guards, rebounding

Steve Alford talked to the media before UCLA’s Tuesday practice, touching on Isaac Hamilton’s play, keeping guards out of foul trouble, and Kevon Looney’s rebounding prowess.

The Bruins host UC Riverside at 8 p.m. tomorrow, their last game before facing top-10 teams in Gonzaga and Kentucky.

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UCLA’s Eric Kendricks win Butkus Award for top college linebacker

Eric Kendricks can now officially call himself the best linebacker in college football, even if Pac-12 coaches don’t think so.

After being left off the All-Pac-12 first team last week, UCLA’s all-time leading tackler received the Butkus Award on Tuesday morning — becoming the first Bruin to ever win in the trophy’s 30-year history.

Even former teammate Anthony Barr, a consensus All-American and ninth overall NFL draft pick, settled for a finalist spot behind Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.

In a statement, the Butkus Award selection committee called this year’s race “as close as any (in) the past decade,” and said it included eight write-in candidates. Continue reading

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UCLA to start home-and-home series with Kentucky in 2015

UCLA will start a home-and-home series against Kentucky next season, it announced this morning, ensuring that the Bruins will face college basketball’s most dominant team at least three times by the end of 2016.

The No. 1 Wildcats are already slated to play against UCLA on Dec. 20 at the United Center, part of the inaugural CBS Sports Classic. Now, Kentucky will also visit Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 3, 2015, and host the Bruins at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, 2016.

Under John Calipari, UK reeled in five straight top recruiting classes before settling for just the second-ranked class behind Duke earlier this year. The 55-year-old turned those hauls into an NCAA title in 2012, and a runner-up finish behind UConn in April.

UCLA head coach Steve Alford has pushed to schedule tougher nonconference opponents since arriving in Los Angeles — even if the Bruins (7-2) haven’t looked quite ready for that high bar yet this season. The team was blown out by then-No. 5 North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last month, and will host No. 9 Gonzaga this Saturday. Continue reading

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UCLA wins 112th NCAA title thanks to men’s water polo

UCLA now has its 112th NCAA championship, thanks to the men’s water polo team.

The Bruins knocked off USC in a 9-8 decision on Sunday at UCSD, breaking the Trojans’ run of six straight titles in the sport. Junior Danny McClintick scored a game-high four goals, while sophomore Gordon Marshall scored the game-winner with 34 seconds left. Goalkeeper Garrett Danner made nine saves.

It marked the program’s ninth championship, and first since 2004.

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UCLA to finish season in Alamo Bowl against Kansas State

UCLA’s season will end in the Alamo Bowl against Kansas State.

This isn’t the finale that Bruins’ fans had hoped for even two weeks ago, but a trip to San Antonio is still arguably the program’s best bowl destination since its Rose Bowl berth following the 1998 season.

Since its last postseason appearance in Pasadena, UCLA has played in three Sun Bowls, three Vegas Bowls, three Bay Area bowls of various names, an EagleBank Bowl, and a Holiday Bowl.

A Jan. 2 matchup against No. 11 Kansas State is a much more high-profile event than any of those, with the No. 14 Bruins presumably back in the underdog position that they favor. Both teams are 9-3 and coming off losses, with the Wildcats falling 38-27 to No. 5 Baylor. UCLA’s 31-10 loss to Stanford on Nov. 28 allowed Arizona to win the Pac-12 South, and eventually earn a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Alamo Bowl will kick off at 3:45 p.m. PT at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

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UCLA ranked No. 14 in final playoff rankings, likely in Alamo Bowl

UCLA will likely finish its season on Jan. 2 in the Alamo Bowl.

The Bruins were ranked No. 14 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, but more crucial factor in their postseason destination was what happened to Arizona. The Wildcats were ranked No. 7 heading into the Pac-12 Championship, but took a 51-13 beating from Oregon that threatened to drop it out of the top 10.

However, UofA clung on to No. 10 in the final standings, and earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 20 Boise State. The Alamo Bowl has the next pick out of the Pac-12, and is a good bet to pick UCLA — which has head-to-head victories over other potential candidates in Arizona State and USC.

Note: There’s some buzz among USC beat writers that the Trojans could end up in San Antonio. I still think the Alamo Bowl picks UCLA, but if it doesn’t, the Bruins should be a lock for the Holiday Bowl.

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UCLA’s potential bowl gifts include GoPro camera, Fossil watches

Every year, the Sports Business Journal does the tireless work of rounding up a complete list of college football bowl gifts — making it easier for the rest of us to either gawk or laugh. (Helen of Troy hair dryer, anyone? Or maybe a personalized Fathead?)

Here are the prizes for UCLA’s possible bowl destinations:

Alamo Bowl: GoPro Hero4 Silver camera and 32MB memory card; Fossil watch; Oakley Works backpack; Schutt mini helmet; panoramic photo

Holiday Bowl: $445 Best Buy gift card and shopping trip; Fossil watch; cap

Foster Farms Bowl: Gift suite*; Fossil watch

*Suites allow players to select from a list of gifts, up to a predetermined value, and can be one of most popular options.

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