First-place UCLA hosts Utah

UCLA Bruins guard Jaylen Hands #4 gets past Central Arkansas Bears center Hayden Koval #15 in the first half on Nov. 15, 2017. (Photo by John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

With a conference record just one double-overtime collapse away from perfect, UCLA (12-4, 3-1 Pac-12) has an early lead in the Pac-12 race entering Thursday’s game against Utah at Pauley Pavilion.

The continued progression of players like Jaylen Hands will help the Bruins stay in first place.

Hands is coming off a career-high eight assists to just one turnover in UCLA’s blowout victory over Cal last weekend.

“That’s what we gotta have out of Jaylen,” head coach Steve Alford said, “and that’s the growth that we’ve been trying to work with him on. … He’s great in transition, he always has (been) since he’s been here, but now he’s learning what the half-court is about and we saw a lot of growth for him.”

Tip-off for Thursday is at 8 p.m. with a TV broadcast on ESPN2 and radio on AM 1150.

Game day links:

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Aaron Holiday on midseason watch list for Wooden Award

UCLA Bruins guard Aaron Holiday #3 gets around Central Arkansas Bears guard Thatch Unruh #25 in the first half. UCLA played Central Arkansas in a mens basketball game at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, CA 11/15/2017 (Photo by John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Guard Aaron Holiday was named to the midseason top-25 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award on Thursday.

The junior leads UCLA (12-4, 3-1 Pac-12) in scoring with 19.4 points, which ranks fifth in the Pac-12, and is the conference’s second-leading assist man with 5.3 per game. He is one of six players in the country with at least 19 points and 5 assists per game.

He became the 55th player in UCLA history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career this season during a 33-point performance against Washington State on Dec. 29.

Holiday is one of four Pac-12 players to make the cut for the top-25 list, joining Arizona’s Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton and Arizona State’s Tra Holder.

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Trent Dilfer talks Josh Rosen, NFL draft on Rich Eisen Show

Trent Dilfer was one of Josh Rosen‘s toughest critics early in the former UCLA quarterback’s career, but now Dilfer is signing Rosen’s praises.

On the Rich Eisen Show on Wednesday, Dilfer compared Rosen to some of the elite quarterbacks of this generation. The former-NFL-quarterback-turned-ESPN-analyst said Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are “not always the best people to be around,” but “they demand the best from the people around them because they want to be great.”

“I think Josh has that in him,” Dilfer said.

Dilfer, who coached a 17-year-old Rosen at the Elite 11 in 2014, was tough on the former St. John Bosco recruit. He said Rosen was entitled and uncoachable when he came to the camp. But when Rosen served as a counselor this past summer, Dilfer was swayed by the UCLA junior’s humility to return and work with the next generation of prospects.

“He’s intellectual. He’s got conviction. He’s not going to be wishy-washy on stuff,” Dilfer said, “and he’s going to demand that his coaches give him the best stuff because he wants to be the best.”

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