UCLA basketball beefs up resume with major conference wins


It wasn’t just that No. 14 UCLA beat SEC and Big Ten teams over the weekend, it was how those wins were achieved that should inspire some more confidence.

For the first time in this young season, UCLA found itself in not one, but two tight games. It won both, claiming the tournament title at the Wooden Legacy in the process.

In Friday’s semifinal it staved off a pesky Nebraska team that nearly erased UCLA’s 15-point second-half lead. Then it withstood four lead changes and two tie scores in the final five minutes of Sunday’s win over Texas A&M in the tournament title game.

It’s not like they’re toppling the best teams in the country (Wait for it…UCLA plays at No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday!) but these are major conference opponents that pushed the Bruins to provide answers to some significant questions. Most notably, could freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf answer the bell in close games? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Continue reading

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Hype grows for UCLA backcourt with 2 watch list candidates

Senior Isaac Hamilton, the Pac-12's top returning scorer, is a stark contrast to the other member of UCLA's backcourt named to a preseason award watch list.

Senior Isaac Hamilton, the Pac-12’s top returning scorer, is a stark contrast to the other member of UCLA’s backcourt named to a preseason award watch list.

How deep is the UCLA backcourt? Two guards have been named to preseason award watch lists – not including two returners who were starting guards last year.

Senior Isaac Hamilton, the top returning scorer in the Pac-12, was a natural choice for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award watch list announced Tuesday. The buzz about freshman Lonzo Ball is only growing after he earned the distinction as a watch list candidate for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award.

To illustrate the depth in the UCLA backcourt, consider that Bryce Alford, who averaged seven tenths of a point less than Hamilton last season, is a certainty to be in the starting lineup when the season begins Nov. 11. As for Aaron Holiday, whose minutes are more difficult to project than the coach’s son, all he did was averaged double figures as a freshman last season and play the best on-ball defense of anybody on the roster. Continue reading

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UCLA links: Men’s basketball cruises to win in Australia

UCLA coach Steve Alford said this year's Bruins don't respond as well to "mental pressure" as last year's team. (David Crane/Staff)

UCLA coach Steve Alford praised his three freshmen after the Bruins blew out Sydney University in their exhibition game Tuesday. (David Crane/Staff)

Freshmen starred for the UCLA men’s basketball team in its 123-76 exhibition blowout victory over Sydney University on Tuesday.

UCLA’s trio of freshmen had 46 combined points with TJ Leaf leading the way with a team-high 21. Ike Anigbogu had 16 and Lonzo Ball had nine. Leaf added nine rebounds and Anigbogu had eight boards. Ball had four assists, two steals and two blocks.

“They were outstanding, all three of them – Ike, Lonzo and TJ,” head coach Steve Alford told UCLABruins.com. “We know what they can do. They came here in their first exhibition game and all three played very well.”

UCLA seniors Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford had 18 and 17 points, respectively.

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UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton makes All-Pac-12 second team

UCLA junior Isaac Hamilton earned an All-Pac-12 second-team nod on Monday. No Bruin made the first team for the first time since 2011-12. (Steve McCrank/Staff)

UCLA junior Isaac Hamilton earned an All-Pac-12 second-team nod on Monday. No Bruin made the first team for the first time since 2011-12. (Steve McCrank/Staff)

For the second time since conference expansion, no UCLA men’s basketball player made the All-Pac-12 first team.

Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins — who finished 10th in the league — with a second-team selection, while fellow junior guard Bryce Alford earned an honorable mention. Hamilton is the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer at 17.1 points per game and has hit double figures in 27 straight outings. The last UCLA player to hold a longer streak is former league MVP Kevin Love, who scored at least 10 points in all 39 games as a freshman in 2007-08.

The Bruins had produced five all-conference first-team picks in the last three years: Norman Powell, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Larry Drew II and Shabazz Muhammad. Lazeric Jones led UCLA with a second-team spot in 2011-12, the first season after Colorado and Utah joined what became the Pac-12.

The league has included 10 players in its first team since 1979-80, only departing from the tradition when it named three five-member teams in 2007-08.

Utah center Jakob Poeltl is the Pac-12 Player of the Year, while Oregon’s Dana Altman was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the third time in four years. He is the first to be named the conference’s top coach in consecutive seasons since Stanford’s Mike Montgomery 12 years ago. Oregon State guard Gary Payton II became the first-ever back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Colorado’s George King is the conference’s most improved player, while Utah’s Brandon Taylor was honored as the top scholar-athlete.

See the rest of the All-Pac-12 teams below. All awards are voted on by coaches, who cannot select themselves or their own players. Continue reading

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VIDEO: UCLA coach Steve Alford on USC rivalry, Bruins’ outlook

With just nine regular-season games left, UCLA is still hovering below .500 in conference play. Needing a few more emphatic wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins take their next step on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at USC.

Head coach Steve Alford talked on Tuesday about the matchup. A few notes:

» UCLA shook up its starting lineup this past Saturday, playing forward Jonah Bolden ahead of senior Tony Parker in an 83-50 win over Washington State. Bolden seems likely to keep that spot, with Parker continuing to man the backup center position instead of playing next to sophomore Thomas Welsh in a “big-big” frontcourt.

“We played well last game doing that,” Alford said. “I don’t think it’s always going to be etched in stone as to who that is, but I don’t see any changes.”

» Alford lost to USC for the first time on Jan. 13, with his Bruins devolving on defense. Looking back on that 14-point loss, the third-year coach pointed out that the Trojans scored 13 points off of “50-50 balls,” as well as 16 second-chance points.

“When you fuel their transition game by mistakes that you make, that makes it really, really difficult,” Alford said.

USC represents the type of athletic, up-tempo team that has troubled UCLA all season, and offers a good test for just how much Bolden’s presence will improve the Bruins’ defense. Continue reading

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