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

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UCLA to start home-and-home series with Kentucky in 2015

UCLA will start a home-and-home series against Kentucky next season, it announced this morning, ensuring that the Bruins will face college basketball’s most dominant team at least three times by the end of 2016.

The No. 1 Wildcats are already slated to play against UCLA on Dec. 20 at the United Center, part of the inaugural CBS Sports Classic. Now, Kentucky will also visit Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 3, 2015, and host the Bruins at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, 2016.

Under John Calipari, UK reeled in five straight top recruiting classes before settling for just the second-ranked class behind Duke earlier this year. The 55-year-old turned those hauls into an NCAA title in 2012, and a runner-up finish behind UConn in April.

UCLA head coach Steve Alford has pushed to schedule tougher nonconference opponents since arriving in Los Angeles — even if the Bruins (7-2) haven’t looked quite ready for that high bar yet this season. The team was blown out by then-No. 5 North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last month, and will host No. 9 Gonzaga this Saturday. Continue reading

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UCLA close to scheduling home-and-home series with Kentucky

UCLA men’s basketball just suffered its first loss of the season, dropping a 75-65 decision to Oklahoma today. After debuting in the Associated Press poll at No. 22 on Monday, the Bruins’ stay could be short-lived if it loses to fifth-ranked North Carolina tomorrow as the Battle 4 Atlantis continues in the Bahamas.

This team has talent, if not depth, but there’s a reason Steve Alford preached patience before the start of the season. It will take time for him to coach the team up to where he wants it to be.

But under Alford’s long-term philosophy, it’s these early games against top teams that will make UCLA a tougher program. The second-year head coach told ESPN on Wednesday that the Bruins are close to finalizing a home-and-home series with Kentucky, which has become a perennial title contender under John Calipari. The series would start in 2015 at Pauley Pavilion, then conclude at Rupp Arena the following year.

UCLA already has a game against the No. 1 Wildcats on Dec. 20 at the United Center in Chicago, as part of the CBS Sports Classic.

Since being hired in 2013, Alford has not been shy about his desire to schedule big-time nonconference opponents. The Bruins have a home-and-home against Gonzaga this year and the next, and are currently playing in a tournament that features three other ranked teams.

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UCLA basketball announces 2014-15 season schedule

UCLA starts its 2014-15 basketball season on Nov. 14, but the real fun doesn’t begin until two weeks later.

After a four-game homestand at Pauley Pavilion against Montana State, Coastal Carolina, Nicholls State and Long Beach State — none of which ranked top 150 in RPI last season — the Bruins head to the Bahamas for a star-studded nonconference tournament.

The Battle 4 Atlantis on Thanksgiving week is the type of heavyweight competition that second-year head coach Steve Alford has openly pined for since arriving in Los Angeles. Matchups haven’t been finalized for the three-game slate, but UCLA is in a field that includes Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgetown, Butler, Oklahoma and Alabama-Birmingham (UAB).

The Gators and the Badgers both made the Final Four this past season, while the Tar Heels and the Hoyas are among the sports bluebloods — even if neither team has been as formidable in recent years.

But UCLA will only host one major nonconference opponent: Gonzaga, whom the Bruins last faced in 2006’s all-time Sweet Sixteen thriller. The Bulldogs visit Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 13 to start a home-and-home series.

That’s followed by a huge Dec. 20 game against national runner-up Kentucky at the United Center as part of the CBS Sports Classic.

The Bruins will open Pac-12 play with five of their first seven games on the road, starting with a trip to Utah and Colorado on the Jan. 2-4 weekend. They will travel to Arizona and Arizona State on Feb. 18-22, but will not host either due to the conference’s schedule rotation.

Nonconference single-game tickets will go on sale Wednesday at uclabruins.com/tickets, while Pac-12 single-game tickets go on sale Oct. 1.

UCLA’s full schedule below: Continue reading

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