UCLA

UCLA Run Ends Against Kentucky


March 24, 2017

Looks like Lavar Ball was wrong on this one.  UCLA was eliminated by Kentucky on Friday night in Memphis in the Sweet 16, losing by a score of 86-75.

The game belonged to De’Aaron Fox, who scored 39 points on the night.  It was the best NCAA scoring performance for Kentucky since Tayshaun Prince had 41 against Tulsa in 2002, and it was the best by a freshman in tournament history.  Kentucky wins its 14th straight game, and moves on to play UNC in the Elite 8 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, UCLA was eliminated in the Sweet 16 for the 3rd time in the last 4 years.  That’s all too common a problem for Steve Alford, whose teams have never been further in the tournament.

Lonzo Ball, who announced after the game that he played his last game as a Bruin, scored 10 points while dishing out 8 assists, but turned it over 4 times as well.

The first half was not the up and down pace you would have thought from these two squads, and Kentucky took a 36-33 lead at the break.

In the 2nd half, the closest the Bruins would get would be 50-49.  The Wildcats pushed their lead to as many 14 in the final minutes.

UCLA shot well from the field but the Bruins turned the ball over 13 times, and Kentucky outscored them 14-2 off the mistakes.

The Bruins are done for the year, but much to the surprise and disappointment of some, Steve Alford announced that he is returning to UCLA and will not be taking the job with his alma matter, Indiana.  “I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully that’ll continue,” Alford said.

UCLA has the #2 recruiting class in the country coming in next year, including Lonzo’s younger brother, LiAngelo.  Recruiting has always been Alford’s strong suit, but it’s the coaching that’s been more troubling.

Lonzo Ball & The Bruins Blitz Cincinnati

March 19, 2017

Lonzo Ball showed his brilliance again on Sunday night.  It also came just in time, as the Bruins finally pulled away from Cincinnati in the 2nd half to defeat them 79-67 in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento.

Ball scored 18 points, while dishing out 9 assists, and grabbing 7 boards to spark UCLA’s offense after a difficult 1st half.  TJ Leaf scored 11 points and had 7 rebounds as well, as the Bruins scored 49 points in the 2nd half.  That completely changed a game in which UCLA trailed 33-30 at halftime.

“I don’t know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we’re clicking,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said.  Their offense got going, but it was really their defense that sparked the team after halftime.  “The key to that was going to be defensive stops,” Alford said, “and we came out and got three stops in a row.”

The Bruins opened the 2nd half with a 10-3 run, which included dunks from Leaf and Thomas Welsh.    That gave them a 40-36 lead.  Shortly after that, UCLA would find their stroke from behind the arc, making three straight 3-pointers.  Two of them were from Ball, and the other from Bryce Alford.  That stretched the lead to 55-47 with 12:25 left.

The Bruins never looked back from there.  The only real question mark hanging over the team was the future of coach Steve Alford, who has reportedly been offered a 7-year $31 million contract to coach Indiana.  He once again, deflected the question when asked about it after the game.

“I’ve already addressed that matter and I’m not going to address it anymore,” Alford said. “This is about our team and what these guys are doing.”

The Bruins will now travel to Memphis to take on Kentucky on Friday in the Sweet 16.  It’s also UCLA’s 3rd trip to the Sweet 16 in the last 4 years under Alford.

UCLA defeated Kentucky back in December 97-92 in Lexington.  “It’s a very, very good basketball team,” Steve Alford said “I think they’re better now in March than they were when we played them in December and I think we’re better than what we were in December as well. Makes for a great matchup.”

Bruins Get A Scare But Beat Kent St.

March 17, 2017

The Bruins collectively held their breath on Friday night in the 1st half when Lonzo Ball fell to the floor holding his hip.  Ball was undercut after receiving a lob pass just before halftime.  However, after slowly getting up, he stayed in the game.  Ball went on to finish the game with 15 points and the Bruins took care of Kent State 97-80 to advance to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

TJ Leaf scored 23 points and Thomas Welsh added 16, as UCLA pulled away late to get the win in Sacramento.  The Bruins jumped out to a 14 point lead in the opening minutes, but Kent State would battle their way back against a UCLA team that didn’t seem very interested in playing defense again.

Despite a 16-2 run in the 1st half, Kent State was only down 47-39 at the half.  The Golden Flashes would get as close as four points in the 2nd half after a 3-pointer by Jalen Avery.  Jaylin Walker led Kent State with 23 points and Jimmy Hall Jr scored 20 for the Golden Flashes.

However, midway through the 2nd half, UCLA would put the lead back to double-digits.  “We kinda let up,”  Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “Our shot selection was worse. We didn’t defend. There is a poise to what you want to do offensively, but you’ve got to have poise defensively too. I didn’t think we did that as well in the first half as a team.”

Had Ball been seriously hurt, the Bruins hope for NCAA tournament run would have been crushed.  Fortunately, he avoided major injury.  “I’m fine,” said Ball.  “Finished the game, got up. I’m good.”

UCLA finally found its shooting stroke after last week’s struggles in the conference tournament.  The Bruins shot 62% from the field and 50% from the 3-point line.

The Bruins will need to keep that shooting stroke going against a gritty Cincinnati team on Sunday in the round of 32.

Bruins Can’t Find The Basket vs Arizona

March 11th, 2017

UCLA lost much of the momentum it built the last few weeks with Friday’s 86-75 loss to Arizona in Las Vegas. The loss eliminated the Bruins from the Pac-12 tournament, and sent Wildcats to the finals of tournament on Saturday against Oregon.

Lauri Markkanen scored 29 points, Allonzo Trier added 20 to lead Arizona. The Bruins shot just 40% from the field and 16% from 3.

Isaac Hamilton led UCLA with 20 points and TJ Leaf had 15 before fouling out.

The first half was a back and forth game, but the Wildcats had a late burst to take a 41-35 lead.

In the 2nd half, Arizona would extend the lead to 63-48, and had much of the crowd behind them. The Bruins tried to make several runs, but couldn’t recover.

Lonzo Ball had an off night for the Bruins. He had just 8 points on 2-7 shooting. He also injured his thumb in the 1st half, which appeared to bother him for the rest of the game. Ball thought he would be fine though, especially after X-rays were negative. “Nah, I’ll be all right,” he said.

It was also a tough night for both Steve and Bryce Alford. Bryce had just 5 points on 2-12 shooting.

As for Steve, Arizona coach Sean Miller got some revenge on him from the last time the two team met. Miller called an unnecessary timeout with one second left, and the game decided. Miller was getting back at Alford for doing the same thing to him in Arizona last month.

“I guess they’re upset I called a timeout at their place,” Alford said, referring to the end of UCLA’s 77-72 victory in Tucson two weeks ago when he wanted to set his defense with the Bruins ahead by five points. “I didn’t mean disrespect at all.”

Miller felt otherwise. “When UCLA played us at McKale, I thought they did a great job, they called a timeout with one second left just to make sure they had poise, and I felt like I wanted to make sure our guys had poise at one second left in this game.”

UCLA will find out Sunday what seed and region they end up in for the NCAA tournament next week. However, their hopes of being a #1 seed in the West Region are gone after the loss.

Bryce Alford was disappointed but remained focused on what’s ahead. “Our goal all year is to get to Phoenix and to compete for a national title,” he said. “So we’ve got a lot of work left to do and we have some time to figure out what we need to work on from this tournament

Bruins Edge Trojans

In Pac-12

Quarterfinal

March 9th, 2017

The Bruins came into the Pac-12 tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning 9 straight games.  However, they looked nothing like that team, despite barely getting by the Trojans 76-74 in their quarterfinal matchup.

UCLA shot just 41% from the floor, and lacked the consistent energy on the defensive end that they had shown in the last month.  Isaac Hamilton scored 22 points to lead the way for the Bruins, who stepped up when Lonzo Ball got into foul trouble.

Ball had 12 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds, but TJ Leaf helped do some damage in the paint in his return.  Leaf had 14 points and 5 rebounds.

UCLA will now play Arizona on Friday night in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal.  “We know we’re going to have to be better [Friday] night than we were tonight,” said UCLA Coach Steve Alford.  The Bruins can expect the Wildcats to have quite a few fans in attendance based on Friday’s turnout.

The Trojans only shot 38% from the field, and Chimezie Metu was held to just 8 points, although he did have 14 rebounds.  Bennie Boatwright scored 11 points, but was only 3 for 11 from the field.

“Even in a game where we were a little bit off, you look at the numbers and it was still pretty convincing that way,” Alford said. “It was only a two-point win, but it was tied for 20 seconds and we led the rest, so I’m really proud of our guys. We’ve had very, very few nights where we haven’t shot it well or scored in the 80s-plus and this was one of those nights and yet we find a way to get a win.”

The Bruins tried to pull away with a 12-0 run in the 2nd half, but the Trojans slowly fought back.  They even got within 71-69 with 4:23 left.

In the end, USC had their chances but failed to capitalize.  Boatwright missed a three-pointer that could have tied it with 37 seconds left.  Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart later missed layups that could have made it a one-point game.

Despite the loss, USC should still be in good shape for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament next week.  “You don’t get 24 wins if you’re not a good team,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said. “And I’m going to remind you, Bennie Boatwright was out 18 games. If we were on the East Coast, that’s all we’d be talking about. But because we’re on the West Coast, no one even mentions that.”

Bruins Take Care of Cougars

March 5th, 2017

UCLA finished up their Pac 12 play on Saturday night with a 77-68 win over Washington State at Pauley Pavilion.  The Bruins sleep walked their way through most of this one but got the job done.

Aaron Holiday led the way for the Bruins with 16 points, and Isaac Hamilton scored 14, as the Bruins made it 9 wins in a row.  UCLA went on a 14-0 run over the final 10 minutes to secure the win.

The Bruins played without Freshman TJ Leaf, who sat out with an injured ankle.   However, they got another solid performance from their other star freshman.  Lonzo Ball scored 12 points to go along with 14 assists.  That broke Gary Payton’s freshman assist record in the Pac 12.

Charles Callison led the Cougars with 25 points.  Josh Hawkinson had 16 to go along with 14 rebounds.  That gave him the school’s all-time rebounding record.

The Cougars were up 47-44, and 51-50  before the Bruins went on their 14-0 run.

It was an emotional night for the Seniors, who were playing their final game at Pauley Pavilion.  Both Coach Steve and his son Bryce Alford were particularly emotional.

The Bruins also honored the 1966-1967 team that went 30-0 at halftime.  Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was in attendance.

UCLA enters the Pac 12 Tournament as the #3 seed.  They’ll play in the quarterfinals on Thursday in Vegas.  There’s a good chance the Bruins will have to go through USC, Oregon, and Arizona to win the conference tournament, but doing so would likely make them a #1 seed in the West for the NCAA tournament.

Bruins Take Down Washington But Lose Leaf

March 1st, 2017

The Bruins completed a season sweep of Washington on Wednesday night, but it came at cost.  UCLA defeated Washington 98-66, but they lost freshman forward TJ Leaf to an ankle injury.

Leaf played 5 minutes before spraining his left ankle.  However, it was the Bruin backcourt that took care of business in this one.  Bryce Alford led the way with 29 points, and Lonzo Ball scored 19 points, to go along with 7 rebounds and 8 assists.

The Huskies played without guard Markelle Fultz, which didn’t help their cause.  UCLA jumped all over them early, opening up a 21 point lead at halftime, and a 42 point lead in the 2nd half.

Leaf will be wearing a protective boot between now and Saturday’s game against Washington State, and will be seeking treatment in hopes of playing in the regular season finale.

Coach Steve Alford liked his teams effort from start to finish.  “We were engaged right from the beginning,”  Alford said. “Our guys really concentrated well in a lopsided game. We were really good in a lot of areas.”

Noah Dickerson tied his career high with 23 points for the Huskies . They have lost 11 in a row and 13 of 14.

The Bruins were the only team in the Pac 12 to go undefeated in the month of February.  Their 7-0 mark was the first time they had gone undefeated since the 1994-1995 season.  “I really don’t want to add any additional pressure, but that UCLA team could win a national championship,” said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar.  The former UCLA assistant coach is right.

Bruins Get Revenge In The Desert

February 25th, 2017

They went into one of the toughest places to play in the country, and found a way.  The Bruins defeated Arizona on Saturday night 77-72, which was their biggest statement win of the season.

The Wildcats had won 70 of 71 straight home games coming into Saturday’s game, and 21 in a row.  However, the Bruins dominated the offensive boards, and used a big 19-4 run in the 2nd half to take down Arizona.

Thomas Welsh scored 12 of his 14 points in the 2nd half.  He was one of 5 Bruins in double figures.  Bryce Alford had 15, TJ Leaf and Aaron Holiday had 12 each, while Lonzo Ball had 11 points and 8 assists.

UCLA had a rough ending to the 1st half, missing 7 of their last 8 shots, as Arizona went on a 10-1 run in the final two minutes.  The Bruins had been up by as many as 7, but they found themselves trailing 43-39 at halftime.

The Bruins decided to play some defense in the 2nd half, switching to a 3-2 zone, which slowed down the Wildcats.  They also outrebounded Arizona 9-1 on the offensive glass in the half.

UCLA stretched the lead to 11 twice late in the game.   The last at 73-62 on Welsh’s’ inside basket with 4:38 to play before Arizona managed one final charge finishing the game on a 10-4 run.

Arizona cut the lead to 75-72 with 29 seconds left.  Aaron Holiday missed the first of a one-and-one free throw, which gave the Wildcats a chance to tie.  However, Kadeem Allen air-balled a three-pointer in the final seconds.  Allonzo Trier had a career-high 28 points in the losing effort.

The win tightens the Pac 12 race and likely puts Oregon in the driver seat to win the Pac 12 regular season title.   Oregon and Arizona are tied for 1st, but the Ducks own the tie-breaker by virtue of winning their head-to-head matchup with the Wildcats.  Arizona has one game left at Arizona State, while Oregon’s final game is at Oregon State.

As for the Bruins, they are now 1.5 games out of 1st place in the conference, with two games left against the Washington schools.  UCLA is still likely to finish in 3rd place, which sets up a very important Pac 12 Tournament.  The Bruins would potentially face Arizona in the semi-finals and Oregon in the finals.  A #1 seed in the West Region would be on the line for the NCAA Tournament.   It’s a tough road but after Saturday, UCLA gave us reasons to believe they can beat anybody on any floor.

Bruins Hold Off Arizona State

February 23rd, 2017

It was easy to look ahead to the big showdown Saturday at Arizona.  The Arizona State Sun Devils nearly took advantage of that, but UCLA held on to beat ASU 87-75.

TJ Leaf lead the way with 25 points and 8 rebounds in the Bruins sixth straight win.  UCLA also got 17 points from Aaron Holiday, and 15 from Bryce Alford.

The Bruins are known for their up-tempo offense, but on this night it was their size that wore down Arizona State.  They won the rebounding battle 49-30, and outscored ASU 50-22 in the paint.  UCLA also held the Sun Devils to 38% shooting despite the Sun Devils connecting on 14 three-pointers.

Shannon Evans II had a slam dunk that put Arizona State up 50-49 with 15:22 left in the 2nd half.  However, UCLA went on a 14-5 run from there, which was capped by an Aaron Holiday three-pointer.

Holiday had what felt like a dagger with 7:29 left, nailing another three-pointer.  That put UCLA up 74-60, and Arizona State went quietly after that.

Torian Graham led Arizona State with 28 points and Kodi Justice added 19, but it wasn’t enough.  The Bruins kept their win streak alive on a quiet offensive night from Lonzo Ball, who scored just 4 points, but did contribute 5 assists and 11 rebounds.

The Bruins can still finish in 2nd place in the Pac-12, and possibly even improve upon their #5 ranking with a win at Arizona on Saturday.  They’ll need Oregon to lose a game or two as well, but a win against the Wildcats would do wonders for their confidence in their chase for a National Championship.

Bruins Snap Skid Against Trojans


February 19th, 2017

For the first time in about two years, the Bruins looked like a basketball school against their cross-town rivals. #6 UCLA routed the Trojans 102-70 on Saturday Night at Pauley Pavilion.

The win snapped a four game losing streak against the Trojans on the hardwood, including an 84-76 loss at USC last month. The Bruins improved to 14-1 at home, and are now 5-0 in the month of February.

Bryce Alford led the way for the Bruins with 26 points, including 10 straight in the second half, along with 5 three-pointers. All five starters were in double figures for UCLA, including Lonzo Ball, who had 15 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, as well as TJ Leaf, who scored 19 points to go along with 8 rebounds.   Thomas Welsh contributed a career-high 16 rebounds too.

Not much went right for USC, who was led by Bennie Boatwright’s 20 points and 10 rebounds.   Boatwright, who didn’t play in the first meeting between the Bruins and Trojans, didn’t get much help from his teammates. USC shot only 34% from the field, and got crushed on the boards by a margin of 50-33.

“We beat them the first time by making it tough for them on offense; we challenge shots,” USC Coach Andy Enfield said. “And tonight they did make some tough ones, but our defense was not as exceptional as it was the first time we played them.”

With 8 minutes left in the first half, UCLA went on a 17-3 run. That run was capped by a deep Lonzo Ball three-pointer, which gave the Bruins a 46-34 lead at halftime. That’s the fourth time this season that Ball has hit a deep three-pointer in the final seconds before halftime. The Bruins have won all four of those games.

UCLA appears to be locked into 3rd place in the Pac 12, but is gaining more momentum heading into March. “Coach always says February sets up March,” said Lonzo Ball. “So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Everyone will look at the 100 points and believe the Bruins won this game with their #1 ranked offense in the nation. However, it was really the effort on the defensive end, and on the glass that was the biggest difference in UCLA’s win, as well as in the last three weeks. Those are things the Bruins will need to continue if they expect to compete for a National Championship.

Bruins Come Alive in 2nd Half To Beat Oregon State

February 12th, 2017Lonzo Ball is now taking over on both ends of the floor.  His evolution continued against Oregon State on Sunday, as UCLA ran away from the Beavers with a 78-60 win.Ball had 22 points and 9 assists, while TJ Leaf added 13 points in a game that UCLA led by only 5 points at the end of the first half.The Bruins shot 52% on the way to their fourth straight win, but it wasn’t easy in the early going.  UCLA was trailing 27-24 with three minutes left in the half.  They managed to score the half’s final 8 points, but played with little energy in the game’s first 20 minutes.UCLA broke the game open in the 2nd half with a 14-3 run, and with 5:37 left they had their biggest lead of the game at 71-48.  The run was sparked by a full court press that the Bruins unveiled for the first time this season.  They held the Beavers to 40% shooting for the game.Bruins Coach Steve Alford was pleased with the effort, but stressed the importance of keeping it in perspective.  “There’s obviously been a lot of talk about our defense, which after doing this for almost 26 years, it’s almost comical because other teams aren’t critiqued like we are,” he said. “It’s who you are as your identity. Our team is a very efficient offensive team. Yes, we do want to continue to improve defensively, that’s a huge key for us. But we’re not all of a sudden going to start playing a 50-possession game to hold people in the 50s.”The win gave the Bruins a weekend sweep of the Oregon schools at home.  It was also their first season sweep of OSU since 2012.  The last time the Bruins played the Beavers at Pauley Pavilion, the suffered an 85-82 loss on March 5th, 2016.UCLA maintained its grip on 3rd place in the Pac 12, and will now get ready for a showdown against USC next week.  The Bruins will try to avenge an 84-76 loss to the Trojans last month.

Eight Clap? Bruins Behind The Eight Ball

February 11th, 2017Remember when you thought the Bruins were going to be a #1 seed in this year’s tournament? Well the odds of that happening now are about as good as going a whole day without hearing anybody talk about Donald Trump.For the first time, the NCAA released a midseason preview of what the top four seeds would look like in each region if the tournament started today. The Bruins were the fourth seeded team in the East Region. That region also had Villanova, Louisville, and Kentucky as the top three seeds. Villanova was the #1 overall seed, with Kansas, Baylor, and Gonzaga as the other three #1 seeds.The real problem for UCLA is Oregon and Arizona, who are likely to finish ahead of them in the Pac 12 standings. Even after defeating Oregon on Thursday night, the Ducks were the #2 seed in the West. Arizona, who was recently defeated by Oregon by 27 points, is a #3 seed in the Midwest.UCLA is 2 games behind Arizona for 1st place in the conference, and 1 game behind Oregon.   The Bruins get to play Arizona 1 more time during the regular season, but Arizona and Oregon don’t play again. That means it would take a Hillary Clinton like collapse by The Wildcats and Ducks to be passed in the standings heading into the Pac 12 tournament.The committee didn’t seem to put much weight into recent wins when they came up with their rankings.   North Carolina was still a #2 seed despite losing to Duke on Thursday. Florida hammered Kentucky a week ago, yet they have the same #3 seed as Kentucky, who also lost at home to the Bruins. It’s also strange that a team like West Virginia, who has 5 losses and 2 against teams rated outside the top 75, has the same #4 seed as UCLA.The best hope for the Bruins is to get hot in March and win the Pac 12 tournament. That might get them a #2 seed and slightly closer to home in the West Region. The Bruins will try to keep things rolling tomorrow afternoon at home against Oregon State.

Bruins Rally Against Nebraska

Brett Hundley

September 14th, 2013

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the UCLA locker room at halftime of their game against Nebraska.  The Bruins were trailing 21-10 in Lincoln, and were being dominated.  In fact, it was 21-3 up until the final minute of the first half, before the Bruins started to wake up.  This might have also been because kickoff was at 9 am Pacific Time, which is usually about the time that most college kids are still recovering from their hangovers.  Then the Bruins scored 28 unanswered points in the 2nd half to defeat the Cornhuskers 41-21, and improve to 2-0 on the season.

In a post game interview that Jim Mora Jr did with AM 570 Fox Sports LA, Mora said that there weren’t really any adjustments to make at halftime, and it was simply a matter of focusing and executing better.  What he really meant, was that he had to tell his players to wake the hell up and start playing the way they know how to.  It’s a good thing they did, because this victory was a  tribute their former teammate Nick Pasquale, who was killed last weekend after being hit by a car in San Clemente, CA.   The Bruins wore number 36 patches on their jerseys to honor Pasquale.

The Bruins were once again led by quarterback Brett Hundley, who had 294 yards passing, to go along with 3 touchdowns.  Hundley did have one interception, but also tacked on another 61 yards rushing.   Jordan James was effective running the ball again for UCLA, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown.

The 35 point explosion began with a 10 yard touchdown run from Paul Perkins with under a minute left in the first half.  The Bruins then opened the 2nd half with an 89 yard drive down the field, capped off by a 3 yard touchdown run by James.  After the Cornhuskers went three and out, the Bruins put together another 57 yard drive, ending in a 28 yard touchdown pass from Hundley to Shaquelle Evans.  That gave the Bruins the lead for good, and Hundley would go on to add two more touchdown passes for good measure.

Mora said “our aim is to be special.  Our aim is not to be average.”  The Bruins definitely looked special on Saturday afternoon, winning on the road against a a team that had won 14 straight non-conference home games, and 10 home games in a row.  All of this coming during a week in which they attended the funeral of their former teammate, Pasquale, and playing with heavy hearts.

The Bruins are off to a nice start, but the road ahead will not be easy.  They should handle New Mexico State at home next week, but will have a much more difficult stretch against Cal, Stanford, and Oregon.  In the meantime, UCLA should feel very good about honoring Pasquale in the best possible way.

Something’s Bruin

NCAA Football: Nevada at UCLA

September 1st, 2013

The UCLA football team opened their season in spectacular fashion on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.   The Bruins pounded Nevada 58-20 to kick off a season that is beginning with high hopes for the UCLA faithful.  The Wolf Pack put up a good fight in the first half, but the Bruins exploded for 41 points in the 2nd half to cruise to an easy win.

I would say I had the pleasure of seeing this victory first hand, but considering it was nearly 90 degrees with 61% humidity at game time, I think I was just fortunate that I didn’t die of a heat stroke while attending the game.  Nevertheless, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley put up video game like numbers against Nevada, as he finished with 274 yards passing, to go along with 2 touchdown passes, and 2 rushing touchdowns.  If he keeps this up, he might have a chance of getting invited to NY this winter for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Even more impressive was the Bruins running game.  One of the biggest question marks for this team coming into the season was how they would replace running back Jonathan Franklin.  At least for one night, that question was emphatically answered by junior Jordan James, who rushed for 155 yards on 21 carries, while adding a touchdown.  James got plenty of support from his teammates too, as Hundley rushed for 60 yards, freshman Paul Perkins rushed for 55 yards, and the Bruins ran for a total of 345 yards.

Much of this can be attributed to the job the Bruins offensive line did, which did not allow Hundley to be sacked once.  Just 8 plays into the game, Hundley ran for a 37 yard touchdown to put the UCLA up early.  For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bruins actually have a good quarterback.   Head coach Jim Mora Jr. said “if there’s one place you want security, it’s at quarterback.  He just really wants to be a great player.  Youv’e got to love it.”

Bruins fans are definitely loving it.  Although you might not have been able to tell from the less than capacity crowd that showed up.  The attendance was announced at 60,562 , which is far less than its capacity of over 90,000 .  Much of this can be attributed to UCLA not actually starting classes until late September, which usually limits the crowd at the first game.  Also, the heat was brutal.  Many of the prime tailgating spots were vacant right up until game time, and many people probably didn’t show up at the Rose Bowl because they feared they were going to melt.

As for the Bruins, there are still questions that need to be answered on the defensive side of the ball.    The secondary has been rebuilt, but it was pretty untested in the season opener.  UCLA had a knack for giving up huge plays last season at very inopportune times.  Against Nevada, they didn’t give up any huge plays, but they did surrender 353 yards to scrappy Wolf Pack quarterback, Cody Fajardo.  They’ll need to tighten things up in the coming weeks against better competition.

UCLA will have a bye next week, then travel to Lincoln to take on 18th ranked Nebraska on September 14th.  The Bruins have a tough road ahead of them, including road games against Stanford and Oregon in October.  Vegas lists the over/under on Bruin wins this year at 6.  That’s right….6 games!  As tough as the schedule is, I can’t see this team winning less than 8 games.  The Bruins played 11 freshman yesterday in significant roles, and although inexperienced, they appear deep and talented.  Something big may be Bruin in Westwood.

Can The Bruins Build on Last Year?

Bruins Hundley

July 25th, 2013

With the Bruins getting ready to open training camp, it’s time to ask: can the team build on last season’s surprising success?  UCLA’s 9 wins, and 2nd straight trip to the Pac 12 Championship game last season was more surprising than a sorority girl being sober on a Saturday night on the row.  Head Coach Jim Mora Jr. completely change the culture of the program in one season, and quarterback Brett Hundley emerged as the best UCLA Quarterback since I was causing trouble in my college days.

Despite some big wins over ASU, USC, and Nebraska, the Bruins also had some nasty losses to Cal and Baylor, where they looked like a completely different, and horrendous team.  The schedule will be much tougher this year, including back-to-back road games at Stanford and Oregon.  Fortunately for UCLA, there’s quite a few winnable games at home.

The Bruins return 7 starters on offense, and 5 starters on defense.   The biggest question mark on offense right now is who will be running the football?  With Jonathan Franklin leaving for the NFL, UCLA will look to Jordon James and Damian Thigpen to emerge as a #1 running back.  The Bruins were a solid 37th in the nation in rushing yards last season, but they’ll need to have someone step up in order to be just as effective as last season.  The offensive line is still young, but added 6 four star freshman to the mix, which will provide some much needed depth.   They are led by all-conference guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, who is entering his junior season.

Meanwhile, the receiving corp is still looking strong, led by the return of Senior Shaquelle Evans.  Evans was recently named to the Biletnikoff pre-season award list, as a potential candidate for the top receiver in the nation.  Sophomore Steve Manfro should emerge as a solid #2 receiver for this group as well, which was 34th in the nation in passing last season.  Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone made use of a very well balanced attack, and Hundley figures to improve in his second full season as a starter, which should make the offense just as lethal.

On defense, UCLA was surprisingly effective last year due to a solid pass rush.  However, their lack of depth up front hurt them in the 2nd half of many of their games.  This years defensive front will be led by senior defensive end Cassius Marsh, but will take a major hit with the potential loss of Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who will likely be lost to a hip injury.  The Bruns added depth here with some quality freshman, but they key will be avoiding giving up the big play, which this unit was known for at inopportune times last season.

The linebacking corp is led by Senior Anthony Barr, who is one of the best 3-4 linebackers in the country, and also was 2nd in the nation in sacks last season.  Junior Erik Kendricks should be very effective alongside of Barr, so the Bruins shouldn’t have much of a drop off here after losing Damien Holmes and Datone Jones.

As for the secondary, this is where Bruin fans might wet their pants in fear.  5 of last seasons 6 top defensive backs are gone, and that unit was horrendous.  The Bruins added several 4 star recruits in their defensive backfield, so its hard to image this group getting any worse, but nevertheless, it’s the teams biggest concern.

If the Bruins are going to return to the Pac-12 Championship for the 3rd year in a row, they will have to come up with a couple of big wins on the road.  Here’s my prediction:

vs Nevada- Win

@ Nebraska- Loss

vs New Mexico St – Win

@ Utah – Win

vs Cal- Win

@ Stanford- Loss

@ Oregon- Loss

vs Colorado- Win

@ Arizona- Win

vs Washington- Win

vs ASU- Loss

@ USC – Win

An 8-4 finish for the Bruins.  As more teams get more film on Jim Mora Jr’s squad, UCLA is unlikely to surprise teams like last season without further adjustments.  A number of incoming freshman will have to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball, and they will need a full season to develop.  The road schedule will be a challenge for this group, but they certainly have the chance to go undefeated at home to keep them in the Pac-12 race.  The 2013 season may not be as promising as the previous season, but the Bruins are building a new brand of football in Westwood, which could be a national player in 2014 and beyond.

STEVE ALFORD: STEVE LAVIN REINCARNATED

Steve-Alford Steve Lavin Images

March 30th, 2013

When I work up this morning, I had to double check the date to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s day.  Much to my disappointment, it was only March 30th.  That meant the ESPN report that Steve Alford would be hired as the next UCLA coach was true.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero confirmed in a conference call Saturday morning that Alford will receive a 7 year $18.2 million contract.  Alford will be paid $2.6 million per season, along with a $200,000 signing bonus to cover a buyout from his contract with New Mexico.

So let me get this straight: Ben Howland hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 in the last 5 years, and the Bruins just hired a coach who has been there just once in the last 18 years??  Not only is this a let down for Bruin fans, it’s an obvious downgrade from Howland and Steve Lavin.

Let me try to highlight the few positives of hiring Alford.  Alford has had success recruiting on the west coast.  He lured MWC player of the year Kendall Williams to New Mexico, as well as Riverside product Tony Snell, who has developed into an NBA prospect.  The Bruins may also now have a shot at elite 2013 recruit Aaron Gordon, who is still undecided on where he will attend college.  UCLA might also be able to steal a few undecided recruits to add some depth to their roster for next year as well.

Still, the drawbacks are devastatingly disappointing.  Alford hardly brings the “uptempo style” that Guerrero claims.  His teams were only 239th in the nation in possessions per 40 minutes, a style that is very similar to Howland’s.  In fact,  Alford’s teams have typically been know for their defensive discipline.

Even more disappointing is Alford’s post season record of just 5-7 in the NCAA Tournament.  This includes losses to two 14th ranked teams in the opening weekend of the tournament this past season vs Harvard, and vs Northwestern State while coaching Iowa.

To put it in perspective, UCLA just hired a poor man’s Steve Lavin as their next head basketball coach.  Lavin was a great recruiter, but had some up and down regular seasons, and a limited amount of post season success.  Alford may have had more solid regular seasons, but almost no post season success.

Any Bruins fan that is content with the hiring of Alford is simply relieved that Ben Howland is gone and that there will be a new coach with a new approach.  However, within two years UCLA fans will calling for the firing of both Alford and Guerrero.

Smart To Stay At VCU?

shaka

March 28th, 2013

On Wednesday, Shaka Smart informed ESPN.COM via text message that he would be remain the head coach at VCU.  The University also issued a statement announcing that changes are being finalized to Smart’s contract.

These developments come as a major disappointment to the UCLA Bruins and their fan base, as the Bruins had hoped to lure Smart to Westwood to become to be their next men’s basketball head coach.

Many Bruin fans are asking themselves: Was Shaka Smart sniffing glue??? How can someone turn down the head coaching job at UCLA in favor of VCU???  Unfortunately for Bruins fans, they might need a reality check on what it really means to be the Head Coach of the UCLA mens basketball team.

Of course Smart would probably double his current $1.4 million salary by coaching UCLA instead of VCU.  Of course Smart would be coaching a much more prestigious college basketball name with great tradition in UCLA than VCU.  And of course he would be living in glamorous Southern California, as opposed to the dumps of Richmond, Virginia.  However, with all those advantages comes tremendous pressure and expectations that may be difficult to live up to.

The Bruins just fired Ben Howland, who made it to 3 final fours, won 4 conference regular season titles, two conference tournament titles, and had an overall record of 230-105 during his 10 year tenure.  To put it in perspective, no other Pac-12 team has made it to the Final Four in the last 10 years, while Howland has done it 3 times!  That in itself is a lofty standard to exceed, let alone live up to, for a coach in his 4th year in a mid-major conference.

In 4 years, Smart’s team has made it to one Final Four, but has never won his conference regular season title, and they were eliminated in the third round of the tournament the last two years.  By UCLA standards, this would already have many of the Bruins donors and influential alumni concerned, and making calls to Dan Guerrero complaining this isn’t good enough.

By no means is this article intended to diminish what Smart has accomplished at VCU.  Instead, it is intended to show how easily he could turn down the UCLA job based off what he might feel are unrealistic expectations.  At VCU, Smart has already begun to build great basketball tradition, and is building legendary status with the athletic department and the fans.  In Westwood, he has to follow in the footsteps of the greatest coach of all time, and one of the most accomplished college coaches in the last 10 years.

It isn’t wrong for the Bruins to have aspirations of winning the Pac 12 every year, and being in contention for a national title.  The Duke and Kansas men’s basketball programs are faced with the same lofty expectations year in and year out, and are able to re-load their teams without even blinking.  However, there are only a special group of coaches who will be able to run these type of programs.  Rick Pitino? Billy Donovan? Tom Izzo?  These are the guys the Bruins need, but none of them are attainable.   But maybe the Bruins should have thought of that before sending Howland packing.

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