Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 14th, 2014

Here are three thoughts from UCLA’s convincing win last night over Colorado at Pauley Pavilion.

  1. Kyle Anderson’s 22 points, 11 assists and seven boards; Bryce Alford’s second-half explosion behind a perfect four-of-four from deep; Jordan Adams and Norman Powell out-physicalling Colorado defenders around the paint on the way to a combined 27 points, ten boards, eight assists and five steals: these were the flashy performances, the things that probably caught the most eyeballs. Did anyone ever realize any UCLA frontcourt players showed up to this game? Did anyone notice the Wear twins and Tony Parker combine for 26 points and 14 boards (not to mention four blocks)? Did anyone realize that between the three of them, they made 12 of their 14 field goal attempts and knocked in a couple of threes on the way to a 92.9 eFG%? Well, they did. And with guys like Anderson and Adams and Powell being highly consistent offensive performers around the perimeter and with Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine capable of offensive explosions on a regular basis, if the Bruins can get that type of performance from their frontcourt in any way, they are going to be awful hard to beat. How hard? Let’s put it this way: UCLA has not lost a game this season when the trio of the Wears and Parker have combined for at least either 21 points or 13 rebounds. That’s not a high bar to meet. You figure the UCLA wings and guards are going to get theirs; if Steve Alford can continue to just cobble together a solid combined performance out of his trio of bigs, this team is a serious sleeper come March.

    Kyle Anderson's Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team's Long-Term Hopes

    Kyle Anderson’s Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team’s Long-Term Hopes

  2. Kyle Anderson has gotten, and deserved, a lot of press this season for his versatile game. You know about his great passing ability (he hands out assists on better than 35% of his teammates buckets when he’s on the court). You know he’s a floor general for a flashy offensive team. You may not realize he’s shooting 52.4% from three on the year, but you probably have recognized that his perimeter jumper is vastly improved. You know he uses his 6’9” frame and long arms to rebound at high rates on both ends of the court; in fact he’s particularly good on the defensive end (his 24.5 DR% is in the top 50 in the nation). But that last point, his defensive rebounding, really only barely begins to scratch the surface of what he’s doing on the defensive end. The scouting report on Anderson has long been that he’s an amazing offensive talent, but that he can’t guard. And sure, if you try to make him check Jahii Carson or Chasson Randle, he’s going to struggle with their quickness over the course of a game. But given that he is regularly checking the opponent’s forwards, he’s actually turned into a really good defender. Thursday night, he was on Colorado’s Xavier Johnson for the bulk of his 36 minutes of action. In the first half, Johnson was largely absent on his way to four points. Then in the second half, Johnson’s back-to-back buckets on either side of the under-eight media timeout came when Anderson was getting a blow. Anderson used his length and growing stretch to deny Johnson the ball repeatedly. And then when he did get the ball, he used that length to bother Johnson into either bad shots or giving the ball back up. While Anderson is certainly not the type of defender than can guard the smaller and quicker point guards, that needn’t be held as a strike against him, as he is solid enough when he gets switched onto those guys on occasion and if above-average when defending a three or a less physical four. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 10th, 2014

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  1. The Marcus Smart incident wasn’t the only negative fan-related problem from this weekend, as the Pac-12 had one of its own. According to reports from the Oregon basketball staff and members of the team, an Arizona State student spit on Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish and trainer Clay Jamieson following that game. University police witnessed the event, followed the Ducks to their locker room and discussed the incident with the Ducks’ staff, but they declined to press charges. According to Fish, the team was also spit on at halftime heading to the visitor’s locker room via a ramp that bisects the Arizona State student section. As college basketball fans, we certainly love the fact that fans are passionate about the game, but we would hope that people have reasonable boundaries. But, knowing full well that all fans won’t always respect those boundaries, and knowing even better that college-aged students will have even further problems with them, schools and their arenas need to do their best to protect the opposition. Odds are good that the location of the student section at Arizona State will be reconsidered, not that a change in that area will prevent all fan abuses in the future.
  2. As for the game on the court, Sun Devil senior center Jordan Bachynski was the key to a weekend sweep of the Oregon schools. Averaging 21.5 points, 12 rebounds, and eight blocks (!!!!!) on 15-of-20 from the field and 13-of-16 from the free throw line, he dominated the paint against the undersized Ducks and even against the talent Oregon State frontline. On a weekend where he became the conference’s all-time leader in blocked shots, Bachynski had his best all-around back-to-back pair of games in his career in Tempe.
  3. Meanwhile, brother Dallin Bachynski is getting the job done up the road a spell for Utah. Together with sophomore center Jeremy Olsen, Bachynski has helped to give the Utes a toughness inside to pair with the talented wing players who have more regularly been the stars. Against Washington State on Saturday night, Olsen and Bachynski combined for 20 points and 11 boards in a dominating win that has the squad now within a game of .500 in conference play. They’re still a longshot, but the Utes have at least kept alive the hope of an NCAA bid this season.
  4. UCLA, meanwhile, looks like a team that is headed to an NCAA Tournament berth, but they’re still a team that is in need of a good old-fashioned paint-peeling half-time dress-down like the one head coach Steve Alford gave them against USC on Saturday night. After an uninspiring first half, the Bruins were down six and clearly not playing to the best of their abilities. But, a 10-0 run out of the halftime locker room, turned into a 27-6 run and UCLA coasted over an overmatched Trojans team from there.
  5. Lastly, with Arizona now shorthanded without Brandon Ashley, a key for head coach Sean Miller from here on out will be the ability to manage minutes, conserve energy and wisely use his main six players. Sunday night in a blowout against Oregon State, each of the starting five played between 28 and 31 minutes, with Gabe York and Elliott Pitts combining for another 37. They’ve now got a full four days to recover before they face Arizona State on Friday night, then another four days before they travel to Utah, but it will be interesting to see not only how Miller manages his team’s game minutes, but its workout minutes off of the court.
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Oregon State Slowly But Surely Returning to Relevance

Posted by Rockne Andrew Roll (@raroll) on February 3rd, 2014

Rockne Andrew Roll is an RTC correspondent. You can also find him at @raroll. Rockne filed this report after Oregon State’s upset victory over UCLA Sunday afternoon.

A year ago, Oregon State was 1-8 in conference play and well on its way to Craig Robinson’s third losing season in five years in Corvallis. This year? UCLA’s Steve Alford summed it up rather succinctly after the Bruins’ 71-67 loss at Gill Coliseum on Sunday. His words were not intended for public consumption, but his frustration with his team’s performance gave his words such volume that they were crystal clear on the other side of the cinder block wall that separates the visiting locker room from the press room. “They’re not so bad now, are they?” Alford said of the Beavers, who are now 5-4 in Pac-12 play.

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

Hallice Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

After the disappointment of last season, the impact of beating the second-place team in the conference wasn’t lost on Robinson. “I have to reiterate how big that win was to our team, our program, to our school,” he said. “It’s been 14 or 15 years since we’ve been this relevant, this late in the season. It’s not by accident.” Nor was it lost on his players, particularly his seniors, who have suffered through many a heartbreak. “We haven’t been above .500 this late in the season since I’ve been here. From a fifth-year senior standpoint, it’s absolutely massive,” said senior center Angus Brandt. “It’s what we’ve been working toward this entire time. In terms of confidence, it just solidifies in our mind that we’re a team to compete with in this conference.”

So what’s changed since last year? Quite a bit. For starters, true freshman guard Hallice Cooke has worked his way into the starting lineup alongside Roberto Nelson and Langston Morris-Walker, demonstrating his quality with a 7-of-9 shooting performance and a game-high 20 points against the Bruins. Beyond simply scoring, though, Cooke has already put himself in a position of leadership within the Beavers’ locker room. “I don’t consider him a freshman anymore,” junior forward Eric Moreland said of Cooke. “That’s the point guard, he’s our point guard now. I’m an upperclassmen, but anything he has to say, I’m going to listen. I know he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been on the big stage before and he puts in the work. He’s a leader. As a freshman, that says a lot.”

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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2014

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  1. Pac-12 play gets back underway tonight with the Arizona schools visiting the Bay Area. And that means Arizona freshman forward and prized recruit Aaron Gordon is making his return to his old high school stomping grounds, where he played at Archbishop Mitty. As he was in high school, Gordon remains a coach’s dream in college, a hard-working, versatile player that is a great teammate who is always improving. Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, who was among the coaches hot in pursuit of Gordon’s commitment, joined Arizona head coach Sean Miller in praising Gordon’s ability. But, more importantly for the Wildcat’s season than one player’s return home is the chance to again prove their mettle in tough conference road games.
  2. As for California, tonight they host Arizona State in an attempt to get back on track. But the Sun Devils provide significant and diverse challenges for the Golden Bears. First, along the frontline, Richard Solomon will need to continue his strong play as he matches up mostly against the Sun Devils’ senior center Jordan Bachynski who has four inches on him. And then in the backcourt, senior point guard Justin Cobbs may have the experience edge on Arizona State’s sparkplug Jahii Carson, but Carson’s got the clear quickness advantage. And, as always when the nation’s #1 team is up next, the Golden Bears need to make sure they’re not looking ahead to Saturday against Arizona.
  3. Good news everyone! Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy may return as early as this weekend when they host Washington on Saturday. Lacy has had a rough 2014 so far, missing time following surgery to remove his appendix, returning for 11 minutes and then injring his ribs. And, without their best scorer and leader, the Cougars have been, well, just awful. While it remains to be seen if he’ll actually play on Saturday or possibly wait until next week, it will likely take some time for him to get back to full strength. And until he is back at full strength, the Cougs really don’t have much of a chance to compete on a regular basis. But, assuming he’s back to full strength by March, and assuming Que Johnson’s time in the spotlight has been put to good use, there’s a chance these guys are talented enough to spring an upset on day one of the Pac-12 Tournament. Maybe not a good chance, but a chance.
  4. Tomorrow night, Oregon gets a chance to build upon its win over Washington State last weekend by protecting its homecourt against the invaders from UCLA. While the Ducks shut down the Cougars defensively on Sunday, holding them to 44 points (0.73 points per possession), the Bruins offer a whole different challenge, with talented offensive players up and down their rotation. After the up-tempo Ducks allowed 80 points or more in five consecutive games prior to the Washington State matchup, they welcome in the Bruins, who have scored at least 69 points in every game this year and 80 or more in 12 out of their 20. With both teams in the top 20 in the nation in shortest offensive possession length and with KenPom.com projecting a final score in the upper-80s, this may well be one of the most enticing conference games of the season.
  5. Lastly, yuck. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do this at all. It has been an emerging policy at least among RTC Pac-12 writers to ignore Bruins Nation, a UCLA “fan” site that has repeatedly shown an ignorance about basic basketball strategy and is a shining beacon in the world of applying actual events to pre-determined narratives, no matter how silly those applications turn out to be. Given that there are so many better sources for news and opinion about UCLA basketball, there is no reason to usher people in the direction of the TMZ of UCLA basketball coverage. But, in the spirit of comedy, they outdid themselves on Tuesday, suggesting that one of the reasons that freshman guard Zach LaVine (regularly projected as a lottery or border-line lottery selection in the 2014 NBA Draft) may be considering entering the draft following this season is because head coach Steve Alford is playing favorites and will hand the point guard position next year (assuming, safely, that Kyle Anderson is NBA-bound) to his son Bryce Alford, regardless of the competition. Now, we’re not actually going to link to this Onion-esque bit of prose (which, among other things, suggests that LaVine, third on the team in minutes this year, might still be relegated to the bench next season if Anderson leaves), but suffice it to say that this is odd, at best. Right now, without any bit of doubt whatsoever, Alford is the team’s second-best point guard. LaVine is terrific off the ball (seriously, coming off a solid screen and squaring up to get a good look at the hoop from deep, there are very few more fearsome shooters in the nation), but has shown an inability to create for himself or others with anything more than one or two dribbles, and is loose with his handle. He’s a terrific pro prospect because of his athleticism, ridiculous upside and potential to improve those glaring weaknesses. And if he winds up forgoing his final three years of eligibility, it is entirely because he is likely to get paid handsomely for such an opportunity. Either way, while he may well develop into a point guard in time, right now, he would struggle running the point – he’s an attacking wing in transition and a deadly catch-and-shoot guy. But the idea that the criminally-underrated Alford is only receiving playing time because his dad has a soft spot in his heart for him indicates a writer who has decided not to spend any time actually watching UCLA basketball.
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Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2014

UCLA hosted California on Sunday night in a match-up of what clearly looks like the second and third-best teams in the Pac-12. UCLA ran out to a big lead, eased up, and then let the Golden Bears back into the game when freshman Jabari Bird got hot. The Bruins were able to turn the energy back on to finish off the game, but we learned several important things that will be important to remember going forward in the Pac-12 race.

Kyle Anderson Is Exceeding Already High Expectations at UCLA (Scott Chandler, UCLA Athletics)

Kyle Anderson Is Exceeding Already High Expectations at UCLA (Scott Chandler, UCLA Athletics)

  1. Kyle Anderson is very good. At some point, writing this will become tiresome and repetitive; but it isn’t yet. Slo-Mo is the Bruins’ best player and – despite all the Zach LaVine hype – its best NBA prospect. He’s got great court vision and a tremendous feel for the game – we knew that. At 6’9”, he’s big and long and causes a lot of match-up problems – yup, knew that too. But his ability to get to rebounds and forcefully collect them (his defensive rebounding percentage is 30th in the nation! For a point guard!); his tendency to lull defenders to sleep with his deliberate style and then glide by them with his long gait on the way to the hoop; his lean-back jumper that uses his long frame to easily shoot over smaller defenders; his ever-improving three-point shot (he’s shooting 52.9 percent from deep this year, for crying out loud!); and his apparent and evolving command of the leadership necessities that go along with being a point guard. Goodness gracious sakes alive! Those are all revelations. Yeah, if you catch him on a switch and he is matched up on a smaller, quicker player, he can have some defensive difficulties, but his feel for the game and those long arms allow him to create so many turnovers. He’ll of course still need to continue adding bulk to his frame, but he is already a terrific player. After the Golden Bears cut the lead to three on Sunday, it was Anderson who the Bruins went to when an answer was needed. He responded time and again, not just getting into the lane and using a variety of moves for good looks at the hoop, but also setting up his teammates in good positions. We’re three months in and still not exactly sure just how good UCLA is, but with a player the caliber of Anderson leading the way, the Bruins are going to have a puncher’s chance come March. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. Utah hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament since the 2008-09 season, but a couple of solid wins and a few near-misses against good teams has fans wondering if it is again emerging as a basketball school. Coach Larry Krystkowiak has certainly changed the culture and attitude around the program. Fan interest is growing; the Huntsman Center rocks for big games; and losing is no longer expected in Salt Lake City. It’s going to take more than a couple signature wins to regain the title of a real hoops school, but Krystkowiak definitely has the program headed in the right direction.
  2. With Arizona now sitting at 19-0 and still ranked #1 in the country, Tucson, or Lob Pueblo, is becoming the focus of the college basketball nation. Star freshman forward Aaron Gordon is rolling along with the stardom that goes along with his team’s success, going about his business and not letting it affect his on-court performance. The freshman is second on the team in with 12.4 PPG and first in rebounds at a 7.8 RPG clip. This ESPN feature on Gordon details his life as a child and what comes next for himself and the Gordon family, and also reveals the great tidbit that Aaron was born as an ice hockey player. Next up for his undefeated Wildcats is a visit from Utah on Sunday night.
  3. Arizona was in action last night in an ESPN2 game against Colorado, and the Cats picked up another quality win in front of a big audience. The Buffaloes struggled once again without Spencer Dinwiddie available, falling behind Arizona, 18-4, six minutes into the game. The Buffaloes actually outscored Arizona from that point on, but the hole was too deep and the final was 69-57. Wildcat guard Nick Johnson led all scorers with 18 points.
  4. If UCLA wants to be back in the polls on Monday morning it needs to get sophomore guard Jordan Adams some cleaner looks and Adams needs to convert when given the opportunity. The Bruins’ leading scorer has not scored at or above his average since January 5, and in that time frame he has only shot 31 percent from the field. “He’s a great shooter. We’ve got to work the offense to get him better shots,” head coach Steve Alford said. Long offensive droughts hurt UCLA mightily in its losses against Arizona and Utah, and those need to come to a halt if the Bruins are to contend for a Pac-12 title.
  5. With roughly one and a half months remaining in the season, we thought it would be a good time to start up our basketball pick’em contest. Adam Butler from Pachoops will join us through the end of the year in our prognostications, and important bragging rights are on the line. Each week we will also highlight the top game of the weekend, with a correct pick being worth two wins, and an incorrect selection worth two losses. We head to Los Angeles for that game this week, where UCLA will host in-state rival California.
Game Connor (0-0) Drew (0-0) Adam (0-0)
Oregon State at Washington Washington Oregon State Oregon State
Colorado at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Colorado
Stanford at USC Stanford Stanford Stanford
Oregon at Washington State Oregon Oregon Oregon
Utah at Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
California at UCLA UCLA California UCLA
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Pac-12 M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 6th, 2014

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  1. As Drew reported last week, Oregon State decided junior forward Eric Moreland was eligible to return from his 14-game suspension two games early, meaning that he could appear in the Beavers’ Pac-12 opener last Thursday at Colorado. His return sparked some energy into a team that has had an up-and-down non-conference slate, using his lengthy frame to force bad shots and his athletic ability to grab 10 rebounds. Head coach Craig Robinson ended up misunderstanding the terms of the big man’s suspension that was handed down last summer, thinking that it was for half of all games played, when it was actually measured by days of the season. Moreland came back down to earth on Saturday at Utah, only playing 19 minutes as he, along with the entirety of the Oregon State starting lineup, lacked energy. The result was a forgettable one-rebound, four-point performance in an 80-69 loss to the Utes. The return of the junior was expected to lift the Beavers to at least an NIT run, but if the first weekend of conference play is any indication, it could be another long winter in Corvallis.
  2. The nation is now down to six undefeated teams — and the Pac-12 to just one — after Colorado exploded for a 100-point performance against previously undefeated Oregon on Sunday afternoon in Boulder. The Ducks were able to survive despite giving up 105 points to Mississippi and 96 to BYU earlier in the season, but the Buffaloes in their home building proved too much to handle. They now sit at 13-1 and are likely to drop out of the top 10 when the national rankings are released later today.
  3. The USC-UCLA crosstown basketball rivalry wrote another chapter yesterday, with the Bruins throttling USC for a 107-73 win. The 107 points scored by UCLA ties the record for the most points from a winning team in the history of the rivalry. Both teams are of course led by first year coaches, Andy Enfield with the Trojans, and Steve Alford with the Bruins, and it was just the fourth time ever that each entered conference play with new coaches at the same time. Enfield has quickly learned in his stint with at USC that anything and everything he says about the team in Westwood will be reported and scrutinized, and they are surely already looking forward to a rematch at the Galen Center on February 8. UCLA improved to 12-2 with the win, while SC fell to 9-5. Both teams get to stay home this week and will host the difficult Arizona schools.
  4. Sticking with UCLA, Bruins Nation rates the full Bruins’ lineup after non-conference play. The UCLA roster is loaded with talent, but it’s tough to know just how far the team could go in March when it dropped its only two challenging non-conference games. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams leads the team in scoring with 18.5 PPG, while wing Kyle Anderson is contributing at a 14.5 PPG clip and leading UCLA in rebounds with 8.7 boards a game. Next up for the Bruins is what a lot of people assumed would be the Pac-12 game of the year before the season began, a visit from top-ranked Arizona on Thursday at 6:00 PM. This will be the only time that the Bruins and Wildcats will meet in the regular season.
  5. We close today with some recruiting news, as Arizona has emerged as a major player in the courting of class of 2015 power forward Carlton Bragg. Head coach Sean Miller is working hard in preparing for the future, as his talented Wildcat frontline featuring Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley won’t be around Tucson forever. Bragg would be a huge addition to the program, a five-star player who already has offers from Michigan State, Indiana, and UCLA, to name a few.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski will likely miss his second straight game tonight when Arizona meets in-state foe Northern Arizona on the Pac-12 Networks. Tarczewski is sidelined with a sprained right ankle after landing on a Michigan player’s foot nine days ago in Ann Arbor. “We’re going to take it slow. We want to make sure he’s at his best for the Pac-12,” head coach Sean Miller said about the situation. As was the case against Southern University on Thursday, the top-ranked Wildcats had no problem without the sophomore’s services, and things are likely to be the same against the 3-7 Lumberjacks. Tarczewski is currently averaging 10.1 PPG, and with conference play beginning in 10 days, taking tonight off seems like a good call.
  2. Coming into Sunday afternoon’s meeting with #10 Connecticut, Washington was looking for its third consecutive victory, which would have been a season high. And for the first 14 minutes of the game, it looked as if the Huskies might just pull off the upset, which would have been UConn’s second straight loss to a Pac-12 opponent. Washington jumped out to a 33-22 advantage in front of a small but loud gathering at Hec Ed, but the top 10 AAC team showed why they were just that, going on a 27-6 binge to take a lead it would never relinquish. Washington dropped to 6-5 with the loss and will need to at least split its final two non-conference games in order to enter Pac-12 play above the .500 mark.
  3. Former UCLA head coach Ben Howland, who led the Bruins to three Final Fours during a decade in Westwood, was featured in the LA Times over the weekend. Howland is still keeping an eye on his former program, rooting on his players and agreeing that his successor, Steve Alford, has done a good job so far. What is he doing with his time off? A whole lot of fly-fishing, bike riding, and hoops watching. And while he’s enjoying those things immensely, the 56-year old is itching to get back onto the sideline. He’ll land somewhere, likely sometime this spring, because as Dick Vitale said during the UCLA-Duke game last week, Howland would be a great fit at a lot of schools around the country.
  4. Late last week, the guys over at California Golden Blogs met in roundtable form and discussed whether California had a shot at competing for the Pac-12 championship. That’s looking a lot less likely after yesterday’s result in Omaha, when the Golden Bears were dominated on both ends of the court in a 68-54 loss to #16 Creighton.
  5. These stories never get old. This video is from last week, so you may have already seen it, but even if so, it’s worth another view. Air Force Master Sergeant Chris Campbell was reunited with his family at the midway point during the first half of Thursday’s Arizona-Southern game, bringing smiles and some tears to everyone on hand. Each time the Pac-12 Network cameras showed Campbell the rest of the night, he was surrounded by and being thanked by the Wildcats’ fans in attendance. Commentators Roxy Bernstein and Matt Muehlebach joked that, while they were sure he appreciated it, Campbell didn’t get to take in nearly enough of the game as he probably liked. Happy holidays to everyone and to the Campbell family, especially.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 20th, 2013

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  1. UCLA got its big chance on the national stage on Thursday night against Duke at Cameron Square Garden, and the Bruins looked real good for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, those minutes were non-consecutive, and, of course, a college basketball game is still 40 minutes of play. In the end, it was a 17-point win for Duke, another feather in the cap of freshman Jabari Parker on his way to a Player of the Year candidacy, and another opportunity for skeptical Bruins’ fans to distrust the Steve Alford era. UCLA has now struck out in its only two games of national interest in its weak non-conference schedule, and has shown a concerning tendency to lose focus for short stretches of time that ends up costing them.
  2. Steve Alford spoke with CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein prior to UCLA’s game with Duke and addressed, among other things, the comments proffered by cross-town rival Andy Enfield earlier in the year. Alford wouldn’t get as explicit as Enfield got in his discussion of it, but his “one side can talk; the other side will do what we do” comment goes a long way towards reinforcing what has become the popular theme in the rivalry: USC will talk, UCLA will act.
  3. Speaking of USC, after needing every minute on Sunday night to put away Cal State Bakersfield, the Trojans ran into another Cal State school on Thursday night with a bit more talent and couldn’t make up for another uninspired effort. Pe’Shon Howard led the Trojans with 19 points, but took 13 of his 14 field goal attempts from three-point range, including a wayward bomb on SC’s final half-court possession when the team was only down a point. But Howard isn’t the only Trojan who deserves criticism, as junior Byron Wesley was benched for the first 11 minutes of the first half due to a “coach’s decision” and didn’t score his only basket of the night until there were fewer than four minutes left in the game. It was Wesley’s first game under double-figures this year and likely the worst game in his USC career.
  4. So, um. Hmmm. I don’t often read Eamonn Brennan at ESPN.com, but what he wrote on Thursday caught my eye. Apparently, this dude spends a column per week predicting who is at the top of the list for the Wooden Award; you know, the best player in the nation. This week he’s got Arizona’s Aaron Gordon atop that list. Now, I’ve read a lot of dumb things on the Internet (and believe me, I know dumb, because I’ve read Bruins Nation twice today – shudder), but that one takes that cake. I like Gordon a lot and he’s been a great glue guy for the nation’s top-ranked team. But the Wooden Award? I don’t know if Arizona has any name for the award it hands out to its MVP at the end of the year (the Elliott Award?), but if the school were to hand out that award tonight, there are at least two guys (Nick Johnson and Brandon Ashley) who would be ahead of Gordon for that honor. Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen even includes T.J. McConnell ahead of Gordon at this point. None of this should be taken as a strike against Gordon, who has been great on a team that has gotten production for all seven players in its seven-man rotation, but how can Gordon be in the lead for the best player in the nation when he clearly hasn’t even been the best player on his team?
  5. Lastly, Oregon was already a deep team in its first nine game of the season, with eight players averaging better than 13 minutes per game. But with Dominic Artis and Ben Carter now back and hungry for some run, how will head coach Dana Altman fold those players back into an already successful rotation? Early reports are that Altman plans to use his team’s depth to its advantage. Eleven guys played at least eight minutes in the Ducks’ recent game against UC Irvine and the coach mentioned afterward that with the added depth he hopes to see his team continue to extend its defensive pressure and up the tempo. While point guard Jonathan Loyd has been excellent this year for the Ducks, Artis in particular will significantly improve Oregon’s ability to apply great defensive pressure.
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Rushed Reactions: Duke 80, UCLA 63

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 20th, 2013

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey filed this report after Duke’s win over UCLA on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke Used a Superb Second Half Effort to Run Past the Bruins

Duke Used a Superb Second Half Effort to Run Past the Bruins

  1. Duke is getting better defensively. After a so-so defensive first half, Duke held UCLA to 26 points on 34.5 percent shooting in the second stanza. In particular, Rodney Hood did a terrific job containing Jordan Adams and keeping him out of any kind of rhythm. The Blue Devils also frustrated Zach LaVine into a number of bad shots that fueled Duke’s transition attack. Holding the nation’s third-leading scoring team to 63 points is a feather in Duke’s cap and it appears Mike Krzyzewski’s much-maligned defense is starting to come together. If the Blue Devils can defend at this kind of level, they will be the clear favorites in the ACC.
  2. Rasheed Sulaimon may have found his role. Sulaimon had a terrific freshman season for Duke in 2012-13 but his second go-around in Durham has been anything but smooth sailing. After being benched against Michigan and playing only five minutes against Gardner-Webb, Sulaimon gained a lot of confidence in 18 minutes of action tonight. While he was only 3-of-7 from the floor, Sulaimon grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists. On a team with so many options, he needs to carve out a role for himself without trying to do too much. He did just that tonight and his teammates and coaches noticed. This should serve Sulaimon well going forward and get him out of Coach K’s doghouse.
  3. UCLA needs to figure it out defensively. UCLA entered the game allowing opponents to score 70.2 points per game but allowed 80 Duke points on 48.4 percent shooting. We knew defending the three-point line was going to be key for the Bruins tonight but they did not do a good job. Duke shot a lukewarm 34.4 percent from beyond the arc but it bombarded UCLA with 32 attempts and 11 makes. This has been a recurring issue for Steve Alford’s team this season and until it figures it out, there will be a ceiling to how far it can go. Offense can take you a long way but against top competition such as Duke and the kind they will face in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins must do better.

Star of the Game:  Jabari Parker, Duke. The stud Blue Devil freshman shined once again under the bright lights. Parker put together a double-double, tallying 23 points and 10 rebounds on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting night. The 6’8” forward also recorded five assists in the win. UCLA had a difficult time matching up with Parker and it showed. He basically got what he wanted on any part of the court whether it was from long range or around the basket.

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Three Questions Previewing Duke and UCLA Tonight

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2013

When Duke and UCLA lock horns for the first time in 11 years tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City (7:30 PM EST, ESPN), plenty of offensive fireworks figure to be on display. These teams are elite offensively with UCLA ranking third nationally in points per game at 89.1 and Duke not too far behind at 86.0. For as potent as these teams are offensively, their defenses leave a lot to be desired. What we have is a recipe for an up-tempo game, lots of points, and a fun viewing experience. There are also plenty of intriguing match-ups in this game when you look at each squad’s style of play. While their statistics are similar, the teams are constructed very differently. Let’s take a look at three key questions that will decide the result of this contest.

Steve Alford, UCLA

Steve Alford Brings His Bruins to MSG to Face Duke Tonight (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

1. Can UCLA guard the three-point line?

Much has been made of Duke’s defensive issues but defense has also been a problem for Steve Alford’s Bruins, especially when it comes to guarding the all-important three-point line. The Bruins’ 2-3 zone was torched by Missouri in their only loss of the season back on December 7. Missouri made 10 threes which proved to be the primary difference in the game. As a whole, Duke shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc and 45 percent of all Blue Devils’ field goal attempts are triples. Mike Krzyzewski’s team features four lethal perimeter threats and that may be too much for the Bruins to handle. While UCLA’s zone may help contain Duke’s versatile forwards from cutting to the basket, it opens the door for a Blue Devil three-point bombardment. Alford may be forced to extend the zone but his team’s performance will come down to the effort of guards like Norman Powell and a pair of freshmen (Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford) getting out to cover Duke’s shooters.

2. Will Duke be able to prevent UCLA from getting into the paint?

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Pac-12 M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Arizona tips off its first game as the number one team in the nation in more than a decade tonight when the Wildcats host New Mexico State at the McKale Center. And while the Arizona team and their fans are undoubtedly excited about the honor, their opponent tonight is likely pretty happy about the development as well because they’ll get the chance to do something they don’t often have a chance to do — knock off the number one team in the country. Likewise, on Saturday morning, the Wildcats will face a Michigan team with a chip on its shoulder looking to knock the ‘Cats down a peg or two. And, really, even if and when the Wildcats lose, they’re still going to have plenty of foes looking to knock off the Pac-12’s favorite and one of the best teams in the nation.
  2. While the Wildcats are the biggest story in the conference right now, Colorado is riding quite a high themselves in the aftermath of Askia Booker’s game winner against Kansas on Saturday. That win brought the Buffaloes’ record against the Jayhawks to an astonishing 3-53 in the last 25 years. Sure, their former conference mates are one of the sports’ blue-bloods, but that number goes a long way towards showing how little the Colorado basketball program has accomplished historically. But under head coach Tad Boyle, things are beginning to change. And George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated has written a must-read article about how Boyle and the Buffaloes have undertaken that change.
  3. Up north, another strong contender in the Pac-12, Oregon, is about to get a lot stronger. When the Ducks face Illinois in Portland on Saturday evening, it will mark the final game of the nine-game suspensions to be served by sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. Furthermore, it marks the day after the school’s fall trimester ends, meaning freshman Jordan Bell could be academically eligible on that day as well. Bell may still redshirt this season, since he hasn’t been in the mix with the Ducks yet, but for an undefeated team currently (under-) ranked at #15, that’s a whole heck of a lot of talent that is about to be added to that team.
  4. The other big name in the conference that we haven’t gotten to yet is UCLA. And the Bruins have reinforcements arriving as well. But unlike Oregon, those reinforcements won’t be on the front line until next year. Still, what Steve Alford has done on the recruiting trail in Westwood after getting off to a slow start has been nothing short of impressive. UCLA added a top-50 recruit in Australian Jonah Bolden on Tuesday. Bolden, a skilled 6’9” combo forward, joins a UCLA 2014 class that already includes five-star power forward Kevon Looney, four-star seven-footer Thomas Welsh, and European big man project Gyorgy Goloman. On a team that is somewhat soft up front this season, the influx of talented bigs is a welcome sign. Still, sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson is expected to forgo his final two years of eligibility following this season, and with freshman Zach LaVine’s stock rapidly rising, Alford may wind up shorthanded in the backcourt next season.
  5. Finally, we head to Utah, where head coach Larry Krystkowiak has weathered the storm of rampant roster turnover in his time on campus to rebuild the Utes into a competitive and likable team. Utah fans have responded in a positive way by beginning to fill up the Huntsman Center again. With Krystkowiak garnering commitments from his own top-100 recruits, expect the upswing in Utah basketball to continue.
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