Three things to watch as UCLA takes on No. 1 Kentucky

Let’s be honest here. Almost no one expects UCLA to upset Kentucky on Saturday at the United Center, the toughest challenge yet for a Bruin squad that has yet to gel into a team with a strong identity.

Last week, No. 8 Gonzaga already showed how just how far UCLA is from being one of the country’s elite teams, controlling the game the entire night at Pauley Pavilion and easily snuffing every semblance of a Bruin run. So what’s going to happen when Steve Alford’s squad takes on the top-ranked Wildcats, whose rotation consists almost entirely of former McDonald’s All-Americans? A UCLA win would require a number of things to break right. (An act of God wouldn’t hurt either.)

Here are a few things to keep an eye on today.

1. Can UCLA handle Kentucky’s assembly line of big men? The Bruins have outrebounded nearly every team they’ve faced this season, but their loss against Gonzaga finally pitted them against an opponent that could toss superior size their way. Against 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski and 6-foot-10 Domantas Sabonis, UCLA gave up a 34-30 edge on the glass and struggled to convert second-chance opportunities. It also allowed 65 percent shooting inside the arc, with Sabonis missing just one of his five field goal attempts.

The Wildcats have the biggest rotation in the country, starting with seven-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

UCLA holds off Long Beach State in 77-63 win at Pauley Pavilion

UCLA moved to 4-0 on a 77-63 win over Long Beach State, but allowed the 49ers to get within five points with 3:00 left on the clock. Norman Powell and Bryce Alford combined for 41 points, while Kevon Looney logged his third straight double-double. Here’s the game story from Chris Trevino, who filled in at Pauley Pavilion tonight.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Bryce Alford notches second double-double in three games

We’re just three games into the UCLA basketball season, and Bryce Alford already has the first two double-doubles of his career.

The Bruins’ sophomore point guard has started making an argument for Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year. As a freshman, there were times he looked like more of a two-guard, eventually finishing a season off the bench with averages of 8.0 points and 2.8 assists on 38.5-percent shooting.

UCLA hasn’t played anyone of note yet, comfortably rolling past Montana State, Coastal Carolina and — on Thursday night — Nicholls State. But in a 107-74 win over the Colonels, Alford had a sparking line of 28 points, a career-high 13 assists and just one turnover. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Kyle Anderson named UCLA’s most valuable player at team banquet

This was a no-brainer.

After leading UCLA to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2008, point guard Kyle Anderson was named the team’s MVP during Monday night’s year-end banquet at the Beverly Hilton. After averaging 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists — leading the Bruins in the latter two — the third-team AP All-American is headed to the NBA along with former teammates Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine.

Adams, who led UCLA with 17.4 points per game, won the J.D. Morgan Memorial Award for outstanding “team” player. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

What to watch: Oregon State at UCLA

Oregon State (15-12, 7-8) at UCLA (21-7, 10-5)
When:
Sunday, 6 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: FOX Sports 1 (Rob Stone, Jarron Collins)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

No. 1: Will Zach LaVine handle the ball more? Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are returning after their one-game suspensions on Thursday, so LaVine won’t get anywhere close to the 17 shots he took in the double-overtime loss to Oregon.

But it’s about more than just his point total. His father, Paul, has been long insistent that the 6-foot-4 freshman is a point guard. LaVine’s brief stint there against the Ducks didn’t disprove that argument. Late in regulation, Bryce Alford and LaVine swapped roles in the backcourt, with the latter taking the reins of the offense.

Alford has been serviceable as a backup point, but he could be even more effective as a two guard — where he can move off the ball and get better looks. The two 3-pointers he hit during the last 33 seconds of the second half were both assisted by LaVine. More importantly, though, is that giving the ball makes LaVine much more comfortable and better utilize his athleticism. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

VIDEOS: Bruins talk to media after double-overtime loss to Oregon

Head coach Steve Alford, after the Bruins forced double overtime without their two best players: “I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of a basketball team during a regular season game.”

David Wear walks through his buzzer-beating 3-pointer, one that came off an inbounds pass from twin brother Travis with 1.2 seconds left in regulation. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Notes: Steve Alford talks Norman Powell’s breakout

Junior guard Norman Powell has steadily improved every part of his game since he arrived at UCLA, but his most dramatic jump this season has come on offense. Still the team’s best man-to-man defender, the San Diego native has bumped his 2-point shooting to 66.4 percent, up from 57.8 last season and 40.5 the year before that.

In conference games, the Bruins rank seventh inside the arc at 48.3 percent, a middling performance that stems at least in part from the roster’s dearth of dominant big men.

Arizona, first in the category, has three starters making more than 56 percent of their 2-point shots. The only UCLA player that clears that mark besides Powell is Tony Parker at 59.8 percent. David Wear and Travis Wear average 52.8 and 46.9 percent, respectively.

Powell scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting in Sunday’s 76-64 win against Cal, an unspectacular but crucial contribution across 30 minutes — the most he has played against a conference opponent.

Head coach Steve Alford talked about Powell’s “breakout year” after the win, pointing out his propensity for driving down the lane and drawing fouls.

That becomes more important in the context of the team as a whole. UCLA’s 37.7 percent free-throw rate ranks just 10th in the conference, and 245th in the country. Powell’s 36.8 percent isn’t exactly hauling that number up, but besides Kyle Anderson (50.0) and Jordan Adams (49.4), he is the best option for generating trips to the line. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

VIDEO: Bryce Alford talks about his play, first road trip

After shooting 37.9 percent from the field through his first six games, UCLA freshman Bryce Alford is up to 47.2 over his last six. Notably, he is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, and has at least one 3-pointer in all but two outings.

“I think I’ve proven so far that I belong on this team and that I can play with this team,” said the backup point guard.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Bruins move to 7-0 with win over Northwestern

UCLA maintained its perfect record with a 95-79 win over Northwestern Friday night, closing out the Las Vegas Invitational.

Sophomore Kyle Anderson was named tournament MVP and nearly had his second career triple-double. The point guard finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a block. He also made both his 3-point attempts, chipping in to the Bruins’ absurd 13-of-16 rate from downtown. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Bruins narrowly survive Dragons in season opener

UCLA opened the season with a narrow 72-67 win over Drexel, sprinkling some good moments of transition offense in with uneven defense. Coach Steve Alford was generally positive afterward, and maintained that the problems he saw were very fixable.

“You either win that opener or you lose that opener,” he said, “and winning the opener feels a lot better than losing.”

Some notes and quotes from the game:

1. Kyle Anderson looks very comfortable at point guard. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email