Bruins falter in 71-67 road loss to Oregon State

Another trip, another split. For the second time in conference play, UCLA squandered a chance to claw up the standings by dropping the tail end of a road series.

The Bruins fell 71-67 at Oregon State, and t here were few excuses available this time. The loss at Utah last month — one that followed a win at then-No. 21 Colorado — came with an additional flight from Denver to Salt Lake City; Corvallis is less than an hour’s drive from Eugene. The Utes’ Huntsman Center is among the rowdiest venues in the conference; Gill Coliseum draws an average of 3,897, the second-worst showing in the Pac-12.

And to top it all off, coach Steve Alford had an extra day to prepare heading into an 11:30 a.m. Sunday tipoff.

Just about everything that could have gone wrong did. After holding the Beavers to 35.3 percent shooting through the bulk of the first half, UCLA’s zone defense began to crack. Continue reading

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Zach LaVine bedevils Arizona State in UCLA’s blowout win

Welcome back, Zach.

After a mini-slump doused the fiery start to his UCLA career, freshman guard Zach LaVine shot back with a vengeance on Sunday night, keying the Bruins to a 87-72 win over Arizona State.

There were the customary dunks, including a vicious windmill that had all of Pauley Pavilion holding his breath as he hung in the air. There was the 3-point range, rediscovered as he drilled his first three attempts. Continue reading

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Bruins hold off Gauchos, preserve perfect record

– UCLA’s 89-76 win was solid given that UCSB shot lights out early and looked like a team that could earn a March Madness berth. The key was a 27-of-36 showing at the free throw line, the first time the Bruins shot more than 30 in a game this season.

They are 8-0 for the first time since 2006-07.

– Freshman Zach LaVine led the team with 13 points at halftime, showing off his range with a number of deep threes. He still needs to improve his shot selection, but doesn’t seem fazed by a hand in his face or rushing defenders. I write more about him here. Continue reading

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Bruins move to 7-0 with win over Northwestern

UCLA maintained its perfect record with a 95-79 win over Northwestern Friday night, closing out the Las Vegas Invitational.

Sophomore Kyle Anderson was named tournament MVP and nearly had his second career triple-double. The point guard finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a block. He also made both his 3-point attempts, chipping in to the Bruins’ absurd 13-of-16 rate from downtown. Continue reading

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UCLA rolls in dunkfest win over Chattanooga

UCLA had a chance to work on its dunking skills, and Norman Powell had five of UCLA’s 10 slams in this 106-65 win over Chattanooga.

Powell’s windmill dunk was the highlight of the evening as were the 106 points. UCLA hadn’t scored more than 100 points in a non-exhibition game in five years. And that’s because defensive-minded Ben Howland was coach.

This was a new kind of UCLA look to be sure. Kyle Anderson nearly had another triple double with 17 points 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Jordan Adams scored a team-high 22 points, and Tony Parker had a career-best 14 rebounds.

The Bruins are 5-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, when they won their first seven games.

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Bruins narrowly survive Dragons in season opener

UCLA opened the season with a narrow 72-67 win over Drexel, sprinkling some good moments of transition offense in with uneven defense. Coach Steve Alford was generally positive afterward, and maintained that the problems he saw were very fixable.

“You either win that opener or you lose that opener,” he said, “and winning the opener feels a lot better than losing.”

Some notes and quotes from the game:

1. Kyle Anderson looks very comfortable at point guard. Continue reading

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Zach LaVine seizes UCLA’s unofficial dunk title

The Bruins have a new dunk champion. Last year, Norman Powell had clearly staked that title. Now, he’s been dethroned by true freshman Zach LaVine.

“The way he dunks the ball, no question,” sophomore Kyle Anderson said. “I wouldn’t put anybody in the conference up with him.”

According to Anderson, Powell may still be slightly better at finishing a stiffly contested dunk. When it comes to freestyling, however, LaVine has the edge.

UCLA’s point forward recalled a scrimmage at Pauley Pavilion over the summer. While sitting behind the basket, he watched LaVine turn rise up from outside the circle on a fast break, dunking under a defender before coming back up and finishing.

“It was one of the best dunks I’ve ever seen,” Anderson said.

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Zach LaVine talks about decision to stick with UCLA

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Last June, Zach LaVine became UCLA’s first commitment of the 2013 class. A standout scorer at Bothell High, he was named Washington’s Mr. Basketball and also rated the No. 44 player in the country by Sophomore guard Jordan Adams already praised LaVine as one of the top five athletes he’s ever played with.

We sat down and talked a bit about his game, his decision to stick with the Bruins despite a coaching change, and the state of UCLA’s dorms.

Q: What’s your impression of the team and how you fit in?

We’re going to be a lot of fun. What I bring is a scorer, athletic, can dribble. I do whatever coach needs me to do. We’re already a pretty close team. We’re all friends with each other, joke around. We’re going to be really good. Me and Noah (Allen) are roommates right now. Wanaah (Bail)’s right across the hall. We’re all in a little triangle right now. Continue reading

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Bryce Alford invited to USA U19 training camp

Like his father, Bryce Alford might have a chance to represent his country.

After excelling at Albuquerque’s La Cueva High, the son of UCLA head coach and former Olympian Steve Alford will head to Colorado Springs next month for a chance to join the USA U19 World Championship team. He might not make the final roster, but accepting the invitation already puts him in good company; the 24-man list only features four players without college experience, and includes established stars such as Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.

The camp will be held at the U.S. Olympic Center from June 14-19, with finalists announced on the morning of June 16. The finalized 12-man roster will compete in the Czech Republic starting June 27.

Alford — New Mexico’s high school single-season scoring leader (1,050 points) and reigning Gatorade Player of the Year — could get minutes as UCLA’s point guard, and has already impressed forward Travis Wear. Bryce and his older brother Kory, a slated walk-on, visited the school for a day and played in a few games with the team.

“He can shoot the ball,” Wear said of the younger Alford. “He’s actually pretty explosive for a point guard. I saw him on the fast break go up, cock one back and dunk it, which caught me by surprise a little bit.”

He and fellow incoming freshman Zach LaVine — UCLA’s highest-rated 2013 commit — were both named PARADE All-Americans.

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