Pac-12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

We’ve spent the last several months marching to Vegas, so let’s tip things off a bit later today with our Pac-12 Tournament preview.

Bracket

p12bracket

Favorite: Oregon

This may not be the very best version of the Pac-12 Conference in its illustrious history, but it is a certainty that this has been a strong and deep conference. For Oregon to win 14 games this year against an unbalanced in-conference schedule tougher than that of either Utah or Arizona is impressive. While the Ducks’ lack of depth (310th in the nation in bench minutes) is concerning in a three-game/three-night scenario, they’ve done enough to prove that they’re the best team in this conference until proven otherwise.

Next Best Chance: Utah

The Utes opened conference play by getting swept at the Bay Area schools followed shortly thereafter by an 18-point loss to Oregon at the Huntsman Center. Since that loss, the Utes have won 12 of 14 games (with another loss to Oregon among those two) and the issues that were apparent in January — Brandon Taylor struggling; Lorenzo Bonam learning; a soft front line; chemistry questions — have all been addressed. The Utes still need to prove that they can play with Oregon, but they are rolling right now and could use a strong Pac-12 Tournament performance as a springboard into next week.

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UCLA: Predictably Unpredictable?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2016

Conventional wisdom on UCLA, after taking down KenPom #16 Arizona on Thursday night to pair with earlier wins over then-#2 Kentucky and then-#19 Gonzaga, is that the Bruins are inconsistent and unpredictable. And conventional wisdom, as is often the case, may only be partially right. The more complete argument may be that the Bruins are consistent in their inconsistency and predictable in their unpredictability. This isn’t one of those riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma bits of nonsense. There’s a method to UCLA’s madness. Let’s dig in.

Just Another Predictable Night In Westwood (ESPN)

Just Another Predictable Night In Westwood (ESPN)

First, let’s take a look at the current landscape of college basketball. Again, using those KenPom rankings, Virginia is ranked sixth in the nation and has lost road games to George Washington (#72) and Virginia Tech (#119). Miami is ranked 10th and the Hurricanes took a home loss to Northeastern (#81). North Carolina was the AP preseason #1 team and currently ranks 11th in KenPom; the Tar Heels have suffered road losses to Northern Iowa and Texas. Dig a bit further down the rankings and there are many other examples of big-time teams losing to small-time teams. It’s been said that there aren’t any great teams this year, and that may well be true (although reserving that judgment until all of the classwork is in might be in order), but more to the point, there just may be less of a difference this season between the top team and the 50th-best team in the country than ever before. And perhaps more to the point, there is almost assuredly less difference between a team like the 10th-best team and the 90th-best team. In other words, big time teams are susceptible to taking losses against lesser ones, especially when they go on the road.

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Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of The Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 8th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts: Most of the NBA’s attention has been on Tony Parker this season, but it has been sophomore seven-footer Thomas Welsh who has been UCLA’s best offensive player and rim protector. Welsh logged back-to-back double-doubles against Kentucky and Long Beach State and is shooting 62 percent from the field — some five percentage points better than Parker even though the senior attempts nearly twice as many shots at the rim. Furthermore, Welsh has been close to automatic on 15-foot jumpers this season, shooting better than 60 percent on such attempts. NBA teams will always find a place for a legitimate big man who can stretch the floor with a mid-range game. If Welsh can keep it up, he will get plenty of attention from scouts throughout the season.

Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

Thomas Welsh Has Been Arguably UCLA’s Best Player At This Point In The Season

Best Travel Experience: Arizona wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga in Spokane, not with Kaleb Tarczewski sidelined with foot issues and especially not when trailing by double-figures at halftime. But Gabe York and Allonzo Trier sparked the offense; Dusan Ristic held his own inside against Domantas Sabonis; and Sean Miller’s team played its trademark stingy defense down the stretch. The result was one of the most impressive road wins of the young season for any team and the rise of a notion that maybe Arizona won’t need to spend this year “rebuilding” after all. If its defense can remain as ruthlessly efficient as it has been and some of the underclassmen continue to develop, this team will be there again late in March.

Worst Travel Experience: Oregon left the friendly climes of Eugene for the first time this season, but a trip to Sin City didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead the Ducks were greeted rudely by UNLV, who buried the unsuspecting team under a barrage of three-pointers while harassing it into 15 turnovers. If there is one subtle flaw in Oregon’s roster, it’s a profound lack of of experience from top to bottom, especially as injuries continue to sideline key rotation players. The Ducks have shown a knack for gaining fuel from the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena, which will makes stealing road wins very difficult for visitors (just 10 losses in four seasons). But road games have been the more pressing recent issue. If the Ducks want to be considered legitimate conference title contenders, they will need to win on the road with some degree of regularity.

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What Went Right For UCLA That Has Gone Wrong So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 4th, 2015

24-0. 41-7. 61-20. 83-44. No, this is not my high school locker combination. Rather, a handful of snapshots of scores during the Kentucky/UCLA game in Chicago about 50 weeks ago. Those scores and that domination will never go away. But on Thursday night, the Bruins began to earn back some of the capital they tossed away that Saturday afternoon nearly a year ago. Along the way, they also began to bounce back from their early-season underachieving ways, putting losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest behind them for the time being. Below, here are four, er, five things that went right for UCLA on Thursday night — things that haven’t been going right in recent days, weeks, months and years.

UCLA Fans: It's OK to Be A Fan (UCLA Athletics)

UCLA Fans: It’s OK to Be A Fan (UCLA Athletics)

  1. Fan Support. It’s a funny thing that fans can overreact to one way or the other. Great fan support and a raucous crowd in the arena and fans walk out thinking they may as well be part of the team. Empty arena as quiet as a library and fans walk out blaming the team for playing without passion and energy. Two sides of the same coin. For the better part of the past half-decade, Kentucky has been the exemplar of the first scenario. Sure, they’ve had great talent, but you’re can’t tell me that playing to a packed house at home every night hasn’t contributed to a win or two here and there that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. UCLA, on the other hand, has been exhibit A for option B. Talented players playing a fun brand of basketball in a great college arena in front of sparse crowds, leading to head scratching losses that an overly critical fan base blames on the coach, the administration and the players, rather than their collective self. Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion showed what a boost an actually supportive crowd can provide to a group of players in need of some confidence. Sure, no one is going to mistake Pauley last night for the great atmospheres in college basketball. Empty seats in the lower bowl were masked by yellow giveaway t-shirt deep into the first half. But, there was a visible and vocal crowd, something that has become the exception rather than the rule. Extra special mention is reserved for the Bruin student section. And, for that one night, the entirety of Bruin fans deserve at least some credit. The truth is, UCLA fans, UCLA students, you guys had some small part in this win tonight. Flip that coin the other way and recognize the other truth: you guys had some small part in that Monmouth loss as well. You can’t expect to be a great program on the level of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, etc., when you’re not providing fan support on the level of those great programs. One little tip: it’s okay to get into your seats early prior to the game (traffic on the 405 is not a legit excuse) and return from halftime (Komodo food truck, also not a legit excuse) in time second-half action. Read the rest of this entry »
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UCLA Preview: Low Ceiling, High Floor?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 5th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today’s stop: Westwood.

UCLA Bruins

Steve Alford has been in Westwood for two seasons now and he’s got consecutive Sweet Sixteens under his belt. For the first time in his tenure, he’s got a complete roster that is balanced between the frontcourt and the backcourt. And he’s got the makings of terrific recruiting classes started for the next two seasons. And yet, somehow, if you were to listen to certain segments of the notoriously tough UCLA fan base, you would think that the sky was falling. There are very high standards when you’re the head coach of a program with 11 national titles already in the rafters, but given the recent (and by recent, the last 40 years) history of the program, Alford is far ahead of the game. Still, barring a shocking development, this particular Bruins’ team is not likely to bring home banner #12. At UCLA, that all too often qualifies as a disappointment.

This Pair Of Alfords Has Have Had A Strong First Two Seasons In Westwood (AP Photo)

This Pair Of Alfords Has Have Had A Strong First Two Seasons In Westwood. (AP Photo)

Strengths. The Bruins’ biggest positives this season, especially compared with Alford’s previous two years, are two things: stability and depth. In Alford’s first year, there were the common questions associated with a new regime coupled with questions about frontcourt depth and the ability of freshmen to earn big minutes. Last season there was life without Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and a short bench that forced players like Gyorgy Goloman, Thomas Welsh and Noah Allen into roles they weren’t ready for. This year? The Bruins have the same three returning starters — Bryce Alford, Tony Parker, Isaac Hamilton — that they planned to have all along, plus the guys who got bonus minutes last year. Throw in a pair of highly-regarded freshmen guards and combo forward Jonah Bolden making his debut after a year as a partial qualifier and you’ve got a deep UCLA team without many obvious holes in the lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcsouthregion for reporting from Houston this week. You can find all four regional resets here.

New Favorite: #1 Duke. The Blue Devils are well-positioned to make their first Final Four since 2010. Two wins in Charlotte (by an average of 24.0 PPG) did little to diminish their status as the South Region favorite, even with Gonzaga and Utah also impressively advancing en route to Houston. Duke, 31-4 and trending upwards, has made clear the crown will go through them.

Quinn Cook And Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise By San Diego State And Into The Sweet 16

Quinn Cook and Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise by San Diego State and into the Sweet Sixteen. (Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #11 UCLA. The only double-digit seed left standing in this NCAA Tournament is the South Region’s darkest horse, despite that double-digit seed owning more national titles than any program in the history of college basketball. UCLA’s serendipitous March has been well-documented, but 80 minutes of solid basketball earned the Bruins a trip to Houston and the second weekend. The impediment to advancement (Gonzaga) will be significantly greater in Houston; can UCLA’s mutation into Cinderella maintain itself for another weekend?

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Iowa State. It was the quick departure of a pair of #3 seeds from the Big 12 that supplied this year’s NCAA Tournament an early jolt on Thursday afternoon. Baylor’s demise on the other side of the bracket was surprising in its own right, but Iowa State’s loss to UAB was legitimately shocking. Fresh off a takedown of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones had entered this tourney with engines revving. The draw was favorable in the South – many believed a Final Four run was in the cards. At worst, a second round victory over 14-point underdog UAB felt like a certainty. But the impossible becomes possible very quickly this time of year; before anyone knew it, Iowa State had become the first casualty of the Madness of March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #11 UCLA 92, #14 UAB 75

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Who Had UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen Two Months Ago? (USA Today Images)

Who Had UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen Two Months Ago? (USA Today Images)

  1. UCLA was extremely efficient offensively. The Bruins were maddeningly inconsistent throughout much of the regular season, but their offense was never really part of the problem. Yes, their 44.1 percent field goal percentage (135th in the country) is just slightly above average nationally, but their 72 points per game and the fact that all five of their starters average double figures suggests that offense is certainly one of the team’s strengths. The Bruins’ offense led the way to their victory here as it was incredibly efficient and effective all afternoon. UCLA came out of the gates blazing, shooting 61.3 percent from the field and 60 percent from the three-point line in the first half on its way to 46 first half points. While the shooting cooled down a little bit in the second half, the Bruins still finished the game with a 60.3 percent mark from the field and a 55.6 percent mark from deep. If UCLA can carry this type of performance over to the tournament’s second weekend, its NCAA Tournament run might live on past the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney, and Tony Parker emerged with strong performances. In UCLA’s 60-59 win over SMU on Friday, guards Bryce Alford and Norman Powell combined for 46 of the team’s 60 points. While the Bruins were able to grab that victory, just two strong performances from your players in March is normally a recipe for an early trip home. The Round of 32 was a different story for the Bruins, though, as today’s victory was a total team effort. Alford and Powell once again had solid games, finishing with 22 and 15 points, respectively. Guard Isaac Hamilton and forwards Tony Parker and Kevon Looney emerged to ensure that Alford and Powell were not alone. Hamilton finished with 13 points and seven assists. Looney posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds (six offensive boards). Parker had a career-best performance with 28 points and 12 rebounds. UAB’s inability to guard Parker was a tremendous issue the entire afternoon and was a major reason for its demise.
  3. While UAB came up short, it still leaves with memories of an incredible March run. UAB was just 16-15 when it began play in the Conference USA Tournament two weeks ago. No one was giving the Blazers a shot of winning the tournament and earning the automatic bid — needless to say, it was quite the surprise when they ended up cutting down the nets after topping Middle Tennessee in the C-USA Tournament final. When the bracket was released on Sunday, the Blazers were given what was viewed as an unfavorable draw with a #14 seed facing the Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State. Undeterred, Jerod Haase and his team shocked the world on Thursday afternoon with a stunning 60-59 upset of the 14-point favorite Cyclones. Saturday did not turn out the way UAB wanted, but you are incorrect if you do not think the Blazers had an amazing March run.

Player of the Game. Tony Parker, UCLA. The junior big man was the most productive player on the floor throughout the game, finishing with a career-high 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Parker was a match-up nightmare for UAB, as nothing it did could stop him from making plays.

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

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Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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Separating Fact From Fiction in UCLA’s Five-Game Slide

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2015

I touched on the disaster that is UCLA basketball this season in Tuesday’s quick spin around the conference. And, the thing is, so did just about every writer either interested in UCLA, the Pac-12 or — given that UCLA is one of our sports’ blue-blood programs — college basketball on a national level. Having listened to everyone else’s takes, there’s plenty to agree with and plenty to disagree with. Below we’ll take a look at some of these takes and try to determine their relative truthiness, ranking each statement on a scale of 1 – completely false – to 10 – right on the money.

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

Bryce Alford is the Problem

Last week’s Bryce Alford numbers we’re off-the-charts bad: 2-of-26 from the field and 0-of-13 from three, if you need a reminder. Some see the more damning part of this the fact that he continued to shoot the ball as the misses piled up. Shots continue to go up; other players stand around and watch; Alford doesn’t do a whole lot to make his teammates better. And, frankly, as the point guard, he’s got to take the bulk of the blame when the offense he is running is sputtering so badly. Since the Kentucky game, UCLA is scoring 0.7 points per possession, and on the year, the Bruins rank 134th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating.

Truthiness score: 5. Right in the middle. The younger Alford deserves some of the criticism, but, as we’ll get to in the next point, probably not the bulk of it.

Bryce Alford is UCLA’s Best Player, and That’s the Problem

This was Gary Parrish’s take in Monday’s CBS College Basketball podcast, and to paraphrase: “Alford didn’t play well this week, but you know what? He’s still the team’s best player and that’s a scary proposition for a program the quality of UCLA.” Let’s start with the first part of that point. Is Alford UCLA’s best player? Not just yes, but hell yes, of course, clearly to anyone with eyes, and probably to most people without. He is the only player on this team that can reliably go and get his own shot on a regular basis. He’s the team’s best shooter from range. He’s the best player on the team at creating shots for his teammates. Look at the KenPom numbers for starters. His 111.3 offensive rating is by far the best on the team; he’s been over 100.0 in that metric in 11 of UCLA’s 15 games (although clearly under it in the last three); he’s assisting on better than a third of all of his teammates’ hoops when he’s on the floor (good for 45th in the nation); and he’s drilling 32 percent of his shots from deep (even with that oh-fer last week) and 91 percent from the line. Make no mistake, Bryce Alford is a very good basketball player. But should he – a guy with no realistic NBA prospects – be the best player at UCLA? Probably not.

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How Does UCLA Respond After the Kentucky Fiasco?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 23rd, 2014

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point Saturday afternoon, UCLA became a national laughingstock. Maybe it was in the middle somewhere of Kentucky’s 24-0 run to start their made-for-national-TV game in Chicago. Maybe it was when UCLA finally scored a bucket to make it 24-2 almost eight minutes into the game and got the sarcastic “oh, isn’t that nice for them” round of applause. Maybe it was at halftime when Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis got to laugh at the Bruins and their 41-7 deficit. But certainly from halftime on, as the score floated around and into the casual sports fans’ consciousness, the Bruins became a punch line, a sick joke that lasted until that sports cycle ended and Sunday and the NFL took over.

Odds Are Good, This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected (USA Today)

Odds Are Good That This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected. (USA Today)

A lot of times when a team gets killed like UCLA did on Saturday in Chicago, you’ll hear someone say something like: “Just burn the tape, there is nothing you can learn from that game.” Well, screw that. There is plenty UCLA can learn from their disaster in Chicago. In terms of X’s and O’s: throw those out the window. What UCLA can – and needs to – learn from this game is more primal. Toughness, togetherness, competitiveness. Pride. Kansas got knocked down and kicked and left for dead by Kentucky a month ago, but since then, the Jayhawks have toughened up and started to come together and proven themselves a top ten team. The Bruins – fresh off a 39-point loss to Kentucky in which the final score was completely merciful – find themselves at a crossroads. Do they turn this into the rock bottom upon which they bounce back to the surface? Or is this a team ready to go the way of Michigan – a team whose confidence is broken?

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