UCLA coach Steve Alford recovering from hernia surgery

UCLA head coach Steve Alford is recovering from hernia surgery, and was not available for Tuesday’s media availability.

He underwent the operation on Monday, but is expected to coach the Bruins for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. tipoff against Washington at Pauley Pavilion.

“He’s been texting the team,” said senior guard Norman Powell. “We all talked to him before film yesterday. He was joking around about different things before surgery. It’s a lot of fun to see that he still has high spirits throughout the adversity that he’s facing.

“We just wish him a speedy recovery and for him to be back before the game tomorrow.”

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At a glance: UCLA at No. 7 Arizona

UCLA (16-11, 8-6) at No. 7 Arizona (23-3, 11-2)
Saturday, Feb. 21, 6 p.m. PT, McKale Center
TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas, Shannon Spake)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: Like it did a year ago, Arizona looks like the Pac-12′s best chance at the Final Four. The difference is that this edition of the Wildcats is even more balanced than the one that fell to Wisconsin in overtime of the Elite Eight — one that, along the way, went undefeated at home and spent eight straight weeks at No. 1.

After losing Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson to the NBA draft, UofA reloaded with five-star wing Stanley Johnson. The Mater Dei product has lived up to every bit of the hype, leading the team in scoring (14.5) and rebounds (6.7) and ranking second in assists (1.96) and steals (1.5). He also shoots an absurd 50.5 percent on 2-point jumpers, making 55 of 109; none of the Bruins’ starters hit more than 38.5 percent. The likely top-10 pick will be a nightmare matchup for UCLA, and is also the only person keeping UCLA’s Kevon Looney from winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

The Wildcats are flat out more talented than the Bruins. They have a veteran point guard in T.J. McConnell, a forward who can stretch the floor in Brandon Ashley, an athletic defender in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and a 7-foot center in Kaleb Tarczewski. Continue reading

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UCLA gets beaten in the paint, on the boards in loss at Arizona State

UCLA looked like it had a chance at Arizona State, Isaac Hamilton pulling up on the right wing for what could have been a game-winning, buzzer 3-pointer. But even that was likely a mirage — just another ill-conceived play in a 68-66 loss, one that delivered a gut punch to the Bruins’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

Hamilton’s shot wasn’t reviewed, since all it drew was back iron and the sighs of UCLA fans hopeful for a late-season surge. On the replay, however, the sophomore’s fingertips looked like they were still on the ball as the backboard lit up red. With 6.8 seconds left, UCLA likely hadn’t created a viable last shot.

The Bruin offense had looked disjointed for much of the second period, missing 11 of its first 14 shots after the break to lose what had been a 36-32 halftime lead.

Norman Powell led the team with 16 points, but didn’t score a second-half point until the final 92 seconds. Big man Tony Parker was a non-factor, fouling out with 9:42 left on the game clock; he finished with just two points and one rebound, his worst showing of the year.

But what really sank the Bruins was lackluster rebounding and indifferent defense. Arizona State dominated them on the boards, 39-27, and sank an array of shots at close range. The Sun Devils shot 54.5 percent on 2-point attempts, and scored 36 points in the paint — 14 more than UCLA. Continue reading

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At a glance: UCLA at Arizona State

UCLA (16-10, 8-5) at Arizona State (13-12, 5-7)
Wednesday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m. PT, Wells Fargo Arena
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: ESPN College GameDay is heading to Tucson for No. 7 Arizona’s Saturday game against UCLA, but the Bruins’ tourney bubble status should keep them from overlooking Arizona State tonight. Steve Alford and company simply can’t afford to lose more than one of its final five games.

The Sun Devils have not been a particularly good team, but they are at least average in most areas and can do enough to upset more talented teams (ex: an 81-78 upset of the Wildcats on Feb. 7). However, despite its “Curtain of Distraction,” ASU has also been unable to string together two straight home wins since December, when it held off Harvard and Detroit. The team is coming off a 10-point win over Washington last Sunday.

In its ninth season under Herb Sendek, Arizona State has been very, very good at one thing: defensive rebounding. The roster doesn’t have much size outside of 6-foot-10 big man Eric Jacobsen, but manages to clean its own glass with a good amount of support from guards and wings. At the top of that list is junior Gerry Blakes, a JUCO transfer who is not only averaging 20.8 points in his last three games, but also leads the team with in defensive rebounding percentage (19.1). Continue reading

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