Is Steve Alford comfortable with Lonzo Ball’s 30-foot 3-pointers?

Freshman point guard Lonzo Ball said the UCLA coaching staff hasn’t tried to dissuade him from shooting well behind the 19-foot, 9-inch 3-point line

Lonzo Ball took the most important shot of the UCLA basketball team’s season last week – when he was 30 feet from the basket. As a reference point, the college 3-point line is 19 feet, 9 inches. The NBA line is four feet beyond that.

The analytics movement promotes 3-pointers, but how does the Bruins’ coaching staff feel about Ball hoisting shots from 30 feet?

“As long as they’re going in,” Ball said, “they don’t really care.”

With 32 seconds left against Oregon, Ball’s step-back, contested 30-footer touched nothing but the bottom of the net. It was the decisive basket in UCLA’s 82-79 win a week ago over then-No. 5 Oregon.

Twenty-six games into his college career, Ball is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Steve Alford learned of Ball’s penchant for 3-pointers from NBA range and beyond while recruiting him at Chino Hills High School more than three years ago. The UCLA coach never tried to rein in his freshman point guard, said he never had a reason to.

“As far out as they can go to where they consistently make them, I’m fine with,” Alford said. “Lonzo has always had that ability. He’s kind of grown up in high school and he’s had that ability. Now you’ve got to pick and choose and I think he’s done a very good job this year of understanding the ebb and flow of the game of when to do that and when not to do it.”

Ball’s go-to shot with the clock winding down has been the deep, step-back 3-pointer. Continue reading

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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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  • UCLA-Washington pits nation’s top two point guards

    Freshman point guards Lonzo Ball of UCLA and Markelle Fultz of Washington are projected to be the top two picks in the 2017 NBA draft (USA Today images)

    The UCLA men’s basketball team isn’t looking past anybody. Not after losing consecutive conference games and three of its first six in the Pac-12.

    But considering the lopsided records of the No. 11 Bruins (20-3, 7-3) and Washington (9-13, 2-8) entering tonight’s game in Seattle, who could blame anyone for focusing less on the team dynamic and more on the most interesting individual matchup in the country? projects Washington point guard Markelle Fultz as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. His UCLA counterpart, Lonzo Ball, is projected to go No. 2. The designated section for NBA scouts at Alaska Airlines Arena won’t be hard to spot.

    Fultz, a 19-year-old from Maryland, has established himself as probably the most dynamic player in the country. He is lacking playmakers around him, as the Huskies’ six losses in their last seven conference games would indicate, but that makes what he has done even more impressive. His 23.1 points per game is the seventh-highest mark in the country and the highest for a power 5 conference player.

    Ball, the only player in the nation averaging more than 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds, can probably appreciate Fultz’ ability to fill a stat sheet too. Continue reading

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    UCLA’s Ball, Leaf, Alford, Welsh make mid-season award lists

    Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are in the running for several of college basketball’s top awards

    Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year
    Freshman Lonzo Ball was the only UCLA representative on the 50-player preseason watch list for college basketball’s most prestigious award. The Bruins freshman point guard will almost assuredly be one of the 30 players on the mid-season watch list when it’s announced on Thursday. He was one of six Pac-12 players on the preseason list along with Waghington’s Markelle Fultz, Cal’s Ivan Rabb, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher.

    As a pass-first point guard, Ball will largely be judged on UCLA’s win total and the Bruins aren’t too shabby in that department with 20 victories in their first 23 games. The 6-foot-6 freshman is the only player in the country averaging at least 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Ball’s actual averages are 14.8 points, eight assists and 5.8 rebounds.

    TJ Leaf was added to the Wooden award watch list at the mid-season mark

    John R. Wooden Award (Player of the Year)
    Ball and classmate TJ Leaf are two of 25 to crack the mid-season watch list for an award that carries plenty of weight in Westwood – it’s sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. It was no surprise that Ball was among the preseason top 50 for the award. Leaf, however, was not.

    The committee gave a nod to Leaf’s particularly high level of play through the freshman’s first 17 games, adding the 6-foot-10 forward to the pool of candidates on Jan. 11 while subtracting more than 25 from the preseason list. Leaf is averaging a team-high 17 points and 8.9 rebounds. He is shooting 64 percent from the field, the 19th-best mark in the country.

    The complete John R. Wooden Award Mid-Season Watch List:
    Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, Soph., G
    Lonzo Ball, UCLA, Fr., G
    Joel Berry II, North Carolina, Jr., G Continue reading

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    LaMelo Ball discusses his half-court shot; Lonzo Ball weighs in

    Lonzo Ball’s youngest brother, LaMelo Ball, was on UCLA’s radar before he entered high school two years ago. Because of the half-court shot he made a couple weeks ago – it wasn’t a buzzer-beater – the Chino Hills High School sophomore has is being discussed in circles that include Stephen Curry.

    The youngest of the three Ball brothers, who committed to UCLA while he was in eighth grade, discusses his now famous half-court shot in the video below. Lonzo Ball also addresses the shot by his brother, who he dubs a “crazy player.”

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