Has UCLA’s defense turned a corner entering Oregon State game?

UCLA freshman center Ike Anigbogu had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Bruins’ 82-79 win over Oregon on Thursday

It sounded like Steve Alford was trying to convince himself on Tuesday when the UCLA coach claimed the Bruins’ defense was making progress in February. UCLA was two games into the month – against teams with six combined wins in the Pac-12.

But the manner in which UCLA took down Oregon on Thursday infused plenty of substance into Alford’s proclamation two days earlier. UCLA held the 33rd most efficient offense in the country to 33 percent shooting in the second half. The Bruins strung together 21-3 and 14-0 runs against the No. 5 team in nation.

And Alford handled his rotations brilliantly. Freshman center Ike Anigbogu played a significant defensive role down the stretch but not at the expense of starting center Thomas Welsh, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.

READ: Preview of No. 10 UCLA vs Oregon State

Aaron Holiday, who is probably UCLA’s best perimeter defender, was a key contributor on both ends in the critical last 10 minutes of the second half, finishing with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Yet starting guards Bryce Alford (12 points) and Isaac Hamilton (11 points) each impacted the game significantly in spots. Continue reading

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Gymnastics posts nation’s highest score, two perfect 10s

The UCLA gymnastics team notched the highest score in the country on Saturday in a convincing win 198.125-194.175 win over Stanford.

The No. 5 Bruins bested No. 1 Oklahoma’s previous national high of 198.025 with their best bars rotation since 2005. Madison Kocian and Peng-Peng Lee both scored perfect 10s as UCLA tallied a team bars total of 49.725, which is tied for third-best in program history.

UCLA also posted season highs on vault (49.5) and floor (49.475) while winning each individual competition. Madison Preston won vault with a career-high 9.950 and Katelyn Ohashi won beam with a career-high 9.975. Kocian, in addition to tying for the bars title with Lee, won floor (9.950) and the all-around (39.575).

Oklahoma is the only other team in the country to break the 198-point mark this season. The Bruins have a big Pac-12 meet next week against No. 4 Utah in Salt Lake City.

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UCLA football links: Latest mock drafts

Defensive end Takkarist McKinley celebrates UCLA’s 38-20 win over USC on Saturday night. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

With the end of the NFL season officially over, teams are turning their attention to April’s NFL draft.

Defensive end Takkarist McKinley is the most popular first-round pick for the Bruins as he’s projected as a late first-rounder by CBS Sports (No. 30 to the Steelers), Sports Illustrated (No. 29, Packers) and NFL.com (No. 31, Falcons). ESPN’s Todd McShay has McKinley at No. 23 to the Giants, while Rotoworld has the defensive end slotted at No. 16 to the Ravens.

In Sports Illustrated’s three-round mock draft, McKinley is the only UCLA prospect listed, however, cornerback Fabian Moreau gets the Cowboys’ draft pick at No. 60 in Walter Football mock draft with Conor McDermott going at No. 105 overall to the Bengals.

Moreau drew rave reviews after the Shrine Game last month and that helped boost his stock. He jumped into NFL.com’s list of top 50 prospects, checking in at No. 47, following McKinley at No. 23.

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Lonzo Ball keeps finding new ways to prove his greatness


Dillon Brooks’ game-winning 3-pointer on Dec. 28 instantly erased the memory of it. With time winding down on UCLA’s first meeting with Oregon six weeks ago in Eugene, the Bruins spread the floor and Lonzo Ball drove for a clutch contested lay-up that appeared to seal a 14th consecutive win to begin the season.

Instead, UCLA lost a four-point lead in the last 15 seconds of the 89-87 loss, diminishing what was a massively clutch basket by Ball on the road against the current No. 5 team in the country.

After the freshman made four of his last five shots Thursday night, including a 30-foot step-back 3-pointer with 32 seconds left in UCLA’s season-altering 82-79 win over Oregon, you can understand why he characterizes the last few minutes of the game “my time to do what I’ve got to do.”

“I don’t get nervous,” he said Thursday night. “It’s the game of basketball, something I’ve been working for my whole life.”

Ball keeps finding different ways to prove his greatness. Thursday provided an array of examples.

UCLA’s point guard bounced back from one of his worst halves of the season to have one of his best. After his defensive assignment was flipped to Brooks with 16 minutes to play, he held Oregon’s leading scorer without a point over the game’s final 15 minutes.

“I think it was arguably Zo’s toughest 20 minutes (of the season) to start the game,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “And maybe one of his better 20 minutes after halftime. That’s how special he is.”

The nation’s leader in assists didn’t have a single one with 15 minutes left in the game. He had 5 points on six shots with 10:30 to play and UCLA didn’t have a single fast break point. The struggle was so evident in Ball’s body language, it created concern he may be playing through injury.

For a freshman who is carrying the largest load on his team to recover mentally in that fashion during a game UCLA trailed by 19 points is nothing short of remarkable. If UCLA can muster some strong defensive stretches like it did during a 14-0 run in the first half and the decisive 21-3 run in the second, Ball is proving he can take care of the rest.

Links from No. 10 UCLA’s 82-79 win over No. 5 Oregon:

  • Game story: Lonzo Ball delivers Bruins biggest win of the season
  • Mark Whicker: UCLA peeled itself off the floor and is flying high again
  • Notebook: UCLA honors broadcaster Dick Enberg
  • Video: Lonzo Ball on his most clutch performance this year
  • Video: Steve Alford on UCLA’s best defensive stretch of the season
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  • Oregon is UCLA’s best remaining shot at quality win

    Dillon Brooks’ last-second 3-pointer on Dec. 28 cost UCLA a win at Oregon

    UCLA has the largest disparity between its ranking (10) and RPI (21) of any team in the Associated Press top 10. Only West Virginia (13/33) has a larger disparity in the entire top 25.

    In other words, it’s easy to argue the Bruins are getting more credit than they deserve.

    UCLA’s chances to boost that RPI are running out. Tonight’s game against No. 5 Oregon at Pauley Pavilion may be its best opportunity to not only add to the resume, but provide convincing evidence UCLA is among the nation’s elite.

    The Bruins have two wins against teams with a top-50 RPI: Kentucky (13) and Cal (36). It can be argued that a road win at Kentucky is the only significant feather in UCLA’s cap. For example, Cal lost by 23 at Oregon on Jan. 19.

    Of course, Oregon was lucky to beat UCLA on Dillon Brooks’ 3-pointer with .08 seconds left in the Bruins’ first conference game. But despite 21 wins and just three losses, even those shiny totals make it difficult for UCLA to argue it’s a championship-caliber team.

    READ: Preview of No. 5 Oregon at No. 10 UCLA

    Aside from Kentucky, the Bruins’ nonconference wins simply haven’t held up. It’s not UCLA’s fault, but RPI numbers aren’t much help from Ohio State (69), Michigan (75) and Texas A&M (93), meaning it has to largely prove itself in conference play.

    So far, it is winless in two games against the Pac-12’s elite, Oregon and Arizona. It plays at Arizona on Feb. 25 and could easily get another shot or two at either team in the Pac-12 tournament, but tonight is its last home game against the class of its conference.

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