Earlier this month, Missouri outscored UCLA by 17 in the second half of a nine-point victory. In Thursday night’s 80-63 win at Madison Square Garden, No. 8 Duke did the same to the Bruins.
Now 11 games into their first season under coach Steve Alford, UCLA has rolled over subpar opponents while falling short late against big-name programs. The team is promising: it can put up points, and it can do so at the breakneck pace promised before the season. But it also lacks fortitude on defense and on the boards, and has yet to prove late-game resolve.
UCLA (9-1) vs. No. 8 Duke (8-2)
Location: Madison Square Garden, 4:33 p.m. PT TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale, Andy Katz) Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)
1. This is UCLA’s shot to earn some more national respect before conference play. Ten games into the season, the Bruins look like a good team, not a great one, and a loss at Missouri was enough to drop them from No. 18 in the Associated Press poll to out of the rankings entirely. First-year head coach Steve Alford has said a few times this season that he wants to schedule tougher opponents in the future, and was responsible for getting Duke on the calendar with relatively late notice. Continue reading →
Justise Winslow committed to Duke this afternoon, adding to 2014 recruiting class already ranked No. 1 in the nation. The five-star swingman is rated the No. 9 player in the country by Rivals.com.
The Blue Devils were regarded as the frontrunner heading into this afternoon, with UCLA making a late push this week as his second potential destination. The 6-foot-6 Winslow’s other finalists were Arizona, Florida and Texas A&M.
The Bruins secured a solid class during the early signing period with five-star forward Kevon Looney and four-star center Thomas Welsh, but the addition of Winslow would have pushed the haul to elite status.
It’s official. UCLA will play Duke on Dec. 19 at Madison Square Garden.
Exciting as the blue-blooded matchup may be, it’s not one that bodes well for Steve Alford six weeks into his first UCLA season.
The Blue Devils lost three starters (and 47.5 ppg) from last season’s Elite Eight squad, but return promising guards Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook. They also landed a top-five recruiting class that features elite wing Jabari Parker, who landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated before Andrew Wiggins seized the media’s attention.
Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, who averaged 10.3 points as a freshman in 2011-12, will also be eligible.
UCLA has talent too, but still lacks a go-to point guard like Duke has in Cook.
Playing at MSG won’t help the Bruins either. Roundtrip tickets from LAX to JFK start at around $420, while flights from Raleigh cost about half that. Duke fans can also manage an eight-hour road trip up the coast with relative ease.
Other notable nonconference games are at Missouri on Dec. 7, and at home against Alabama on Dec. 28. The two games signal the end and beginning of home-and-home series, respectively.
UCLA will only meet the Arizona and Washington schools once in conference play.