At a glance: No. 11-seed UCLA vs. No. 6-seed SMU

No. 11-seed UCLA (20-13) vs. No. 6-seed SMU (27-6)
Thursday, March 19, 12:10 p.m. PT (approximate start)
KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
NCAA Tournament — South Regional
TV: truTV (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)
Radio: AM 1150 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: There is good and bad that comes with Larry Brown — the good being that he is a very good basketball coach, and the bad being that he’s not likely to stick around very long. And for college programs, there’s the ugly too: NCAA violations tend to follow him.

Though his degree of involvement varied in the two cases — Brown essentially told Grantland he was in the wrong place at the wrong time in regards to UCLA’s vacated 1980 runner-up finish — the 74-year-old left both the Bruins and Kansas with sanctions in his wake. That might happen again at SMU, his third collegiate stop and the 13th team he has coached in his career.

On the court, there’s little disputing what Brown has done for the Mustangs. Before he was hired in 2012, SMU went 13-19 and ranked 281st and 121st nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. The team had significantly improved by his second season, going 27-10 for a runner-up finish in the NIT after being snubbed from the Big Dance.

This year, the Mustangs are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. In the aforementioned efficiency statistics, they now rank 25th (offense) and 42nd (defense) in the country. Although they don’t have any standout wins, all but one of their losses have come against tournament teams. The exception is an 81-73 loss at UConn on March 1, one it avenged two weeks later in the AAC title game.

With a deep, capable frontline that can rebound and defend the rim as well as most teams in the country — as well as a capable point guard in Nic Moore, the AAC Player of the Year — SMU is a team without many glaring weaknesses. Three of five starters are transfers, perhaps a testament to Brown’s ability to develop players that others once overlooked.

It’s fair to wonder how long this rise might last. Continue reading

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VIDEO: Steve Alford compares SMU’s style of play to Arizona

Steve Alford talked to reporters before UCLA boarded the team bus on Tuesday around noon. During the session, he gave the Bruins’ upcoming opponent a favorable comparison.

“They’re very long,” he said of sixth-seeded SMU. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical. We’re really comparing them to Arizona, to be honest with you. If you’re looking for a team to compare them to in our league, of how they play, how they look, it’s Arizona.

“They only average making four threes a game, but they shoot 48-49 percent from the field. They get a lot of paint scores — that’s Arizona. They run in transition — that’s Arizona. They’re a tremendous rebounding team — that’s Arizona.”

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UCLA basketball prepares for 2015 Pac-12 Tournament

UCLA arrives in Las Vegas for one last chance to show that its worthy of a spot in the Big Dance.

The Bruins enter the Pac-12 Tournament likely needing two wins to feel secure heading into Selection Sunday, but that would almost certainly mean knocking off top-seeded Arizona in the semifinals.

“This team has a lot to prove, I think,” said UCLA point guard Bryce Alford. “We know what we’re capable of. I don’t know if the nation knows that yet. We haven’t really done all that much to show what we’re capable of. But we know it as a team. We’ve seen glimpses of it. … I think we can beat just about anybody on any given night. We’ve got to go out there and prove it.”

The competition starts today at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, with a first-round game between USC and Arizona State that will determine who UCLA faces at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Trojans and Sun Devils tip off at 2:30 p.m. today.

“I’d want to play against Arizona State, just because we let one slip away up there,” said senior Norman Powell. “It was a close game. Honestly, whoever wins that game, we’re just going to go at it the same way.”

— Norman Powell reflects on his UCLA career, one that saw him blossom in transitioning from Ben Howland to Steve Alford.
— UCLA heads to Las Vegas still hoping to pad its NCAA Tournament resume.

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UCLA 85, USC 74: Steve Alford on Bruins’ win, postseason outlook

UCLA beat USC, 85-74, on Wednesday to clinch the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament — also ensuring a last-place finish for the Trojans. The Bruins will need to win at least one game in Las Vegas to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture.

“We’ve still got work to do, just like a lot of teams in the country,” head coach Steve Alford said. “You can’t stop. You’ve got work to do. This team’s playing better. It’s playing very good at the right time.”

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