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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Can UCLA get a marquee win against No. 9 Gonzaga?

UCLA hosts No. 9 Gonzaga tonight at 7:05 p.m., the first part of a tough five-game stretch that will tell everyone a lot more about what type of team Steve Alford has on his hands.

Kenpom.com currently projects the Bruins losing all five: to the Bulldogs (44% win probability), No. 1 Kentucky (12%), Alabama (44%), Colorado (44%) and Utah (27%). The latter four games are all away from Pauley Pavilion.

» Can UCLA handle Gonzaga’s big men, Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 288) and Domantas Sabonis (6-10, 231)?
» Mark Whicker looks back at UCLA’s memorable Sweet Sixteen win over Gonzaga in 2006, the last time the two teams met.
» Freshman Kevon Looney has been a consistent force inside for UCLA, and is one double-double short of the national lead.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Pac-12 Tournament tickets available for $12 on Dec. 12

For fans of numerical repetition — and of basketball, I suppose — the Pac-12 has the sale for you.

The conference announced today that tickets for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena will go on sale for $12 on Friday, Dec. 12. A limited number of those will be available for 12 hours (duh!) starting from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. PT., or as long as the supply lasts.

You can buy these at Ticketmaster using the promo code PAC1212. These are per-session tickets, which means you’ll need to buy six if you want to watch every single game. All-tournament passes also go on sale at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The Las Vegas tournament starts on March 11 and ends March 14. The same deal is available for Pac-12 women’s basketball, which will hold its competition at Seattle’s Key Arena on March 5-8.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

VIDEO: Steve Alford laments UCLA’s lack of ‘toughness’

For the second straight game at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA started slow. Against a UC Riverside squad picked to finish last in the Big West, the Bruins trailed for nearly the entire first half before eventually beating the Highlanders, 77-66.

Head coach Steve Alford attributed that to a lack of toughness, including the discipline to block out and communicate on defense.

“If we don’t develop this toughness, we’re always going to be the kind of team we are right now,” he said.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

UCLA fighting for 7th place after big loss to No. 5 North Carolina

UCLA has just one more chance to leave the Battle 4 Atlantis with a win.

The No. 22 Bruins opened the tournament in the Bahamas with double-digit losses to Oklahoma and No. 5 North Carolina, looking nothing like a team that should be ranked in the Associated Press poll. After a 78-56 dismantling at the hands of the Tar Heels, UCLA now falls the the seventh-place game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, which tips off Friday at 7:30 p.m. PT on AXS TV.

The 22-point margin of victory was UNC’s largest against a ranked opponent since 2008. An even uglier milestone was marked by the Bruins’ own carelessness with the ball: they coughed up 23 turnovers against seven assists, the team’s worst single-game ratio since 1996. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Weekly Q&A — 11/25/14 Answers

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In today’s Daily News, I put together a list of what UCLA football has to be thankful for this season. Hope you all have a great holiday.

On to the Q&A …

Q: If Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota swapped teams, who do you think would be more successful? Where do you suppose UCLA and Oregon would be ranked?

A: I’d go with the team that has the likely Heisman winner, and swap UCLA and Oregon in the rankings.

Q: How much of an impact has running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu had on Paul Perkins becoming the league’s leading rusher?

A: Multiple people have said that Polamalu’s biggest effect on the running back corps has been their pass blocking, which I think has allowed Perkins to stay on the field much more — even if he’s not getting the carry. That was the edge that Jordon James had through the offseason, and the reason I thought the senior would get every chance to win the starting spot. Perkins looked like he would beat out Jordon James for the starting spot at some point this season; I just didn’t expect it to happen so early, and for James to look so poor through the first two games.

(It’s also worth mentioning that Perkins’ conference lead is very slim, and he isn’t facing as much competition for the rushing title as recent backs.)

Q: What is the nature of receiver Thomas Duarte’s leg injury suffered in practice on Tuesday?

A: He looked like he tweaked his hamstring, which has given him trouble since training camp in San Bernardino. Duarte’s limp was barely noticeable on Wednesday, though, so he should be good to go by Friday.

Q: Do you think Brett Hundley’s comment about “achieving everything I wanted to at UCLA” will cause distraction this Friday against the Cardinal, or is the media making a non-story a story?

A: No. I have no clue why this is a story. He literally said in January that this would be his last season, but I guess everyone forgot/didn’t care. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

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.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

UCLA men’s basketball makes AP poll debut at No. 22

UCLA’s Norman Powell makes a layup against Long Beach State during a 77-63 win at Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 23, 2014. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

It needed four games, but UCLA men’s basketball has made its first appearance in the Associated Press top 25 this season.

The Bruins debuted at No. 22 after beating Long Beach State, 77-63, at on Sunday night. The 49ers provided UCLA with its first real challenge at Pauley Pavilion, closing to within five points with three minutes left. Steve Alford’s team held an 11-point halftime lead, but shot just 37.5 percent from the field and 9-of-18 from the line in the second half.

“That’s the poorest we’ve been coming out of halftime. But we needed this,” Alford said. “We needed to see what happens when someone punches you in the second half.”

The Bruins now travel to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, opening with a 11:30 a.m. PT tipoff against Oklahoma on Wednesday. They will then face either Butler or No. 5 North Carolina on Thursday, and another team on Friday. The tournament also features No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 18 Florida, and Georgetown.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email