Thursday, February 23, 2017

The 3 kids and blustering dad who want to take over basketball

TBT: LaVar Ball on UCLA and his sons back in 2015 from Edward Lewis 

From Thomas Productions

feb 20, 2017 | mark cannizzaro link | N.Y. Post | ARTICLE LINK
CHINO HILLS, Calif. — At 3:30 Friday afternoon, a few hundred people stood in line outside the Chino Hills High School gymnasium, some 50 miles east of Los Angeles, awaiting admission to a 7 p.m. game. They seemed oblivious to the storm that local meteorologists were calling “the worst rain event in the last six years” to hit LA.
The game was still 3½ hours away, and the doors to the gym would not open until about 30 minutes before tipoff.
Thanks to three brothers with otherworldly basketball skills, Chino Hills has become like a miniature version of the Lakers “Showtime” days of Magic and Kareem at the old Forum.
“It’s a show,’’ LaVar Ball said, surveying the scene he helped create as the father of Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball. “This is like the hottest thing going. They’re waiting in the rain to see my boys play this game. It’ll never happen like this again.
“I call this the ‘Ball Era,’ because before Lonzo got here, none of this was like it is now. Nobody even knew about Chino Hills. Now, as soon as you mention Chino Hills, the first thing that comes out of everyone’s mouth is ‘Ball brothers.’ When I said this was going to happen four, five years earlier, people thought I was crazy.’’
The oldest, Lonzo, started the show five years ago. He’s now a freshman at UCLA, where he’s the point-guard engine that makes the fifth-ranked Bruins (24-3) a favorite to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Lonzo, who averages 15.4 points, 7.6 assists, 6.1 rebounds and two steals, is projected to be one of the top four picks in the upcoming NBA draft, and not even Phil Jackson could screw up enough to pass on him if the Knicks have the chance to select him.

Lonzo BallGetty Images

When told the Knicks could really use a player like Lonzo, LaVar said, “Everybody’s in desperate need of a guy like Lonzo. He’s the only one in the draft that can make everyone else better.’’
LiAngelo is a senior at Chino Hills, the school’s leading scorer for the last four years, and is committed to go to UCLA next year.
LaMelo is a smooth 15-year-old sophomore who’s possibly the most gifted of the three.
“Everyone wanted my boys to go to all these other schools and I said, ‘It ain’t the school that makes the dude, it’s the dude that makes the school,’ ’’ LaVar said. “They thought the boys are not going to get exposure playing at Chino Hills. I said, ‘If you can find a kid in Africa, you ain’t going to have no problem finding my boys off the 71 Freeway.’ ’’
Not when the boys are this talented (to wit, LaMelo scored 92 points on Feb. 8 against Los Osos High). Or when the father is LaVar, who’s hardly afraid of making bold proclamations about his kids.
Last week, as a guest on an LA radio show, LaVar was asked if Lonzo has a chance to be as good as NBA superstar Steph Curry.
“Heck no,’’ LaVar said. “He’s going to be better than Steph.’’
“I think he’s better than Steph right now; he just doesn’t have the credentials,’’ LaVar said now, warming up his engines. “Steph is 6-2, 6-3. My boy is 6-7. ’Zo is faster than Steph and he jumps higher. If Steph had to guard Lonzo one-on-one, he couldn’t hold Lonzo. I can’t wait for the first game they play together in the NBA. Then, when my son beats him, then what?’’
LaVar talks this way about all three of his boys. And, if you’re merely reading the quotes, it’s easy to view him as an obnoxious, pushy gasbag.
But to meet LaVar is to believe LaVar. His positive energy is so infectious that if he told you there would be no traffic at 5 p.m. on a Friday between Santa Monica and downtown LA, you’d believe him.
Rather than recoil from it and view it as adding pressure, the Ball boys embrace LaVar’s bravado.
“I’ve been living with it since I’ve been born,’’ Lonzo said. “Of course, I appreciate it. That’s my dad, man. Who wouldn’t want his son to be the best, you know? I love him and whatever he says, I’m going to roll with it.’’
LiAngelo said his father’s confidence “lets us know that he cares about us.’’
“He’s been talking like that for a long time now,’’ LaMelo said. “We know he’s got our back and we’ve got his back.’’
The boys’ mother, Tina Ball, a 6-foot blonde, has been married to LaVar for 20 years. They met at Cal State Los Angeles, where they both played basketball. Tina calls LaVar “larger than life, and he’s always like that. That’s who he is.’’
“He’s always told them they can be great,’’ she added. “Obviously, you just want your son to strive to be the best at what they’re doing. Someone has to be better than Michael Jordan. Why not you?’’
LaVar Ball’s master plan is working. He speaks freely about wanting three boys. He believes the boys’ size and prowess were inevitable.
“With [my wife’s] size and my size [6-6, 320], we were going to create some monsters,’’ he said.
“Each one of my boys is better at their age than the other one,’’ LaVar continued. “Gelo was better than Lonzo at 15. Now Melo is better than both of them at 15. I make ’em like phones — each one is better.’’
This is LaVar’s description of his three boys:
  • Lonzo: “Lonzo is the playmaker. He will do whatever it takes to win. He never has a bad game, because if he only has one assist, he might have eight steals, 12 rebounds, 18 points. Or he might have 12 assists and two points.’’
  • LiAngelo: “Gelo is a shooter, a scorer. He can shoot the 3-pointer and he’s got the biggest body where he can post up in the paint. He’s 6-6, 240 playing the two guard. Nobody can guard him.’’
  • LaMelo: “Melo is my hybrid. He can play like ‘Gelo, where he’s shooting the ball a lot — as you could tell with the 92 points he scored — or he can run the team like Lonzo, as he’s been doing all year.’’

The night LaMelo scored the 92 points, LiAngelo was out with a leg injury, so LaMelo was flying solo for the first time at Chino Hills.
“It was his stage to do what he does,’’ LaVar said.

LaMelo Ball (left)AP

LaMelo dedicated the game to a Chino Hills classmate named Lexi Anderson, who was in need of emergency heart surgery. After the game, he tweeted: “92 points #love4lexi.”
His tweet was the catalyst to help launch a GoFundMe page to raise money for Lexi’s medical needs, which include a heart transplant. Five days after the LaMelo tweet, more than 300 people donated $30,246 of a $100,000 goal.
Lonzo called his youngest brother’s 92-point performance “just Melo being Melo,’’ and added how “proud’’ he was of LaMelo raising awareness about his gravely ill classmate.
“He knew that if he went off in that game, it would draw a lot of recognition to not just himself,’’ Lonzo said. “I credit him for putting her first and then going out there and scoring all those points.’’
It wasn’t well received by everyone. LaMelo launched 61 shots in Chino Hills’ relentless shoot-till-you-drop offense, and opposing coach Dave Smith told the Los Angeles Times that LaMelo’s performance was “a joke.”
“When only one kid shoots every shot but one in a quarter, that’s not right. That’s not, as coaches, what we’re supposed to do,” Smith told the paper. “They have a chance to score a layup and they turn and pass the ball out so another teammate can score. That’s not good.”

Stephan Gilling, in his first year as the Chino Hills head coach, has known the Ball family since before LaMelo was born, and he recognized something special immediately.
“When I saw in ’Zo when he was young, he just had this presence and something in his eyes,’’ Gilling said. “He was so confident as a young kid. With him being the first brother, I knew that trait was going to carry on to the next two.’’
Especially LaMelo, who has a smooth, confident style about him that makes it look like he’s loafing. He’s simply so talented, he looks like he can do anything he wants on the basketball court.
On that rainy Friday night against JSerra Catholic, a 105-74 Chino Hills blowout, LaMelo scored one basket when he passed the ball to himself off the backboard for an uncontested layup. On another play, he casually flipped a no-look underhand alley-oop to LiAngelo for a power dunk.

Tina and LaVar BallMark Cannizzaro

Showtime indeed.

The same way LaMelo does for Chino Hills, Lonzo has taken his version of “Showtime’’ to Pauley Pavilion.
“His decision-making has been on point since Day 1 here,’’ UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “He’s always been pass-first. You’re looking at one of the best assist guys in the country, if not the best assist guy in the country. As far as running the show, nobody does it better than Lonzo.’’
Alford’s son, Bryce, Lonzo’s starting backcourt mate, added, “A guy that has [558,000] Instagram followers and with the hype that surrounds him, he could easily be a cocky dude, a bad dude. But he’s one of the nicest guys I know. For him to be the talent he is and the person he is, that’s what really makes him special.’’
UCLA needs to enjoy Lonzo while his magic lasts, because he’ll soon be gone, to the next level, trying to do special things in the NBA.
“The one-and-done for us — all my boys will be one-and-done — it’s not for the money,’’ LaVar said. “We want the one-and-done for the competition. My boys want to be the best ever.’’
You’ll get no argument on that from the Ball boys.
“This is a really exciting time, because it makes the game fun when it’s your family and your brothers are playing good and you’re doing well,’’ LiAngelo said.
“We’re just doing what we love,’’ LaMelo said. “Basketball.’’

Thanks to MalibouAL for posting this article on BZ.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Media Availability Feb 21 2017

from UCLA Athletics

No. 5 UCLA Plays at Arizona State on Thursday

The Bruins will play at Arizona State this Thursday in a matchup televised on ESPN2.

Story Links

LOS ANGELES – No. 5 UCLA (24-3, 11-3) returns to the court at Arizona State (13-15, 6-9) on Thursday, Feb. 23. Game time this Thursday is slated for 6 p.m. PT (7 p.m. MT). The Bruins have won five consecutive games, having most recently cruised past crosstown rival USC, 102-70, before a sellout crowd in Pauley Pavilion last Saturday night.
Venue: Wells Fargo Arena (10,754)
Tipoff Time: 6:05 p.m. (PT)/7:05 p.m. (MT)
Television: ESPN2
TV Talent: Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Bill Walton (analyst)
Radio: AM 1150
Radio Talent: Josh Lewin (play-by-play), Tracy Murray (analyst)
SIRIUS/XM Radio Channel: Ch. 134/Ch. 197
SIRIUS App. Channel: Ch. 959
- UCLA has four games remaining on its regular-season schedule. The Bruins face Arizona State (Feb. 23) and No. 4 Arizona (Feb. 25) on the road before returning home to play Washington (March 1) and Washington State (March 4).
- The Bruins have gone 5-0 through February and are the only Pac-12 program this season to have logged a perfect record this month. No UCLA team has gone undefeated in February since the 1994-95 squad went 9-0.
- UCLA's overall field goal percentage (53.3%) is the highest mark in the nation. No team in NCAA Division I has shot higher than 53.0% in a single season since Duke finished with a 53.6 percentage as the 1992 NCAA Champions.
- The Bruins have averaged a nation-leading 21.7 assists per game, the highest per-game average of any NCAA Division I team since 1991, when Final Four participant UNLV set the NCAA record with 24.7 assists per game.
- Most recently, senior guard Bryce Alford moved into the No. 7 slot on UCLA's all-time scoring list (1,802 points) with a 26-point, 6-assist effort in the Bruins' 102-70 win over USC in Pauley Pavilion before a sellout crowd last Saturday.
- The Bruins continue to lead the nation in points per game (92.3), assists per game (21.7), total assists (586), assist-turnover ratio (1.85) and overall field goal percentage (53.3 pct), through games played Sunday, Feb. 19.
The Bruins extended their win streak to five games – all in the month of February – with a 102-70 victory over crosstown rival USC last Saturday evening. Five Bruins scored in double figures, with Bryce Alford (26 points, six assists), TJ Leaf (19 points, eight rebounds) and Thomas Welsh (16 points, 16 rebounds) helping to lead the way. Lonzo Ball had 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Bruins snapped a four-game losing skid to the Trojans. UCLA made 42 shots, tied for its third-highest total of the year, and attempted a season-high 78 field goals.
UCLA has picked up Pac-12 "road sweeps" at Colorado and Utah (Jan. 12-14) and at Washington State and Washington (Feb. 1-4). In six seasons that the Pac-12 has included Colorado and Utah, the Rocky Mountain road sweep has been accomplished just four times – by UCLA in 2013 and 2017 and by Arizona in 2014 and 2015. UCLA has gone 10-2 in road and neutral site games this season, including a 97-92 win at then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3.
In UCLA's win at Washington (Feb. 4), four Bruins scored at least 20 points in the same game for the first time since Dec. 22, 1994, when Tyus Edney had 28 points in a 137-100 win over George Mason. UCLA's 107 points in the win at Washington (Feb. 4) were the most by a road team in a Pac-12 regulation contest (no overtime) since Jan. 10, 1998, when Arizona won at Washington by a 110-91 margin.
Bryce AlfordIsaac Hamilton and TJ Leaf have each scored at least 32 points this season, with all  three performances taking place in Pac-12 play. Alford had a career-high 37 points at Colorado (Jan. 12), Hamilton recorded a season-high 33 points versus Arizona State (Jan. 19) and Leaf had 32 points at Washington State (Feb. 1). In all, six Bruins – including Lonzo BallThomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday – have scored at least 20 points in a game this season.
Lonzo Ball (15.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 7.6 apg) has emerged as a legitimate National Player of the Year and Freshman Player of the Year candidate. He has twice secured Pac-12 Player of the Week honors and will enter this Thursday's game as the nation's only player to have averaged at least 10 points, four rebounds and seven assists per game. He continues to lead the nation in both assists per game (7.6) and total assists (206), having recorded UCLA's highest single-season freshman assist total. He has surpassed Pooh Richardson's mark of 179 assists in 1985-86.
Lonzo Ball's Pac-12-leading 2.99 assist-turnover ratio is the fourth-highest figure in the NCAA record book for any freshman. Iowa State's Monte Morris set the NCAA freshman record in 2013-14 (4.79).
UCLA has averaged 92.3 points per game, the fourth-highest average in school history (1971-72 averaged a Pac-12-best 94.6 ppg). UCLA's 21.7 assists per game is the second-highest mark in school history behind the 1973-74 team (22.4 apg), since the assist was regularly tracked by UCLA in 1973-74. The Bruins' 1.85 assist-turnover ratio is the highest mark recorded at UCLA (since 1978-79). In the NCAA record book (since 1992-93), UCLA's 1.85 ratio is the second-highest figure behind West Virginia's 2.01 mark set during the 2005-06 season.
UCLA has shot 42.1 percent from three-point distance, a figure that currently stands as the third-highest in school history. The Bruins' 1988-89 squad made 42.6 percent of its three-point attempts. UCLA's total of 278 made three-pointers stands as the best single-season mark in school history.
UCLA looks to sweep the season series against Arizona State on Thursday night, as the Bruins secured a 102-80 victory over the Sun Devils in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, Jan. 19. UCLA leads the all-time series against Arizona State by a 69-19 margin. The Bruins have won six of their last seven meetings against Arizona State. Last year, UCLA downed the Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz., by a 78-65 margin (Feb. 14, 2016). Since the start of the 2004-05 season, the Bruins have compiled a 19-5 record against Arizona State (that figure spans 13 seasons).
Four UCLA players have been named to positional watch lists, as announced by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame (each list is comprised of 10 players). Freshman Lonzo Ball is among 10 candidates for this season's Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award. Senior Bryce Alford has been named to the midseason watch list for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award. Freshman TJ Leaf is among 10 players selected to the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award. Senior Thomas Welsh has been named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award Center of the Year watch list.
Bryce Alford ranks No. 7 on UCLA's all-time scoring list (1,802 career points). He scored a career-high 37 points, connecting on nine three-pointers, in UCLA's win at Colorado (Jan. 12). The senior guard has scored in double figures in 22 of 27 games and is currently shooting at a 52.0 percent clip from three-point range in Pac-12 games (52/100).
Isaac Hamilton scored a season-high 33 points, connecting on 9 of 14 three-pointers, in UCLA's 102-80 win over Arizona State (Jan. 19). Hamilton had 25 points in the first half in that victory. He has averaged 14.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Hamilton is one of three Bruins to have made at least 55 three-pointers this year.
Lonzo Ball, a national player of the year candidate, leads the nation in assists per game (7.6) and total assists (206). Averaging 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, Ball's 206 assists are the most in one season by a UCLA freshman (he surpassed Pooh Richardson's previous freshman record of 179 assists during a victory on Feb. 1).
TJ Leaf has scored at least 20 points in eight games. He ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.6 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (8.8 rpg), through Feb. 19. Leaf scored a season-high 32 points and had 14 rebounds in the win at Washington State (Feb. 1), connecting on 14 of 18 shots. He has totaled a team-leading 11 double-doubles.
Thomas Welsh (10.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg) has made 30 of 32 free throw attempts. He made his first 28 free throw attempts after having ended the 2015-16 campaign with 16 consecutive made free throws. That established a new school record (44 straight), eclipsing Darren Collison's streak of 43 consecutive free throws in 2008-09.
Aaron Holiday has averaged 13.0 points and 4.4 assists, appearing in all 27 games off the bench. Holiday ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in three-point percentage (43.4%, 43/99) through Feb. 19. His 42.7 career percentage from three-point territory currently ranks fifth on UCLA's all-time list (minimum of 100 three-point attempts).
Ike Anigbogu, (pronounced EE-kay ahn-ee-BOH-goo) a 6-foot-10 forward/center from Corona, Calif., has averaged 4.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 12.5 minutes per game off the bench. He has scored a season-high nine points in three games and has twice registered a season-high four blocks (shooting 55.8 percent from the field).
- G.G. Goloman has averaged 3.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, averaging 11.1 minutes off the bench for the Bruins. A 6-foot-10 forward from Körmend, Hungary, Goloman has totaled 20 blocks in 26 games (0.77 bpg). Goloman, who has shot 58.0 percent from the field, scored a career-high 12 points in a win over CSUN (Nov. 13).
UCLA has gone 14-1 in Pauley Pavilion this season. The Bruins' 11-game home win streak was snapped with a 96-85 loss to No. 14 Arizona. That had been the Bruins' longest home win streak since securing 15 straight wins in 2013-14, Steve Alford's first season in Westwood. UCLA last had an undefeated home record in 2006-07, going 16-0 in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins have gone 72-13 in Pauley since the arena reopened Nov. 9, 2012, after an 18-month renovation.

Monday, February 20, 2017

UCLA denies USC fifth-straight win over rival with impressive 102-70 rout

Bryce Alford drove toward the basket, extending the ball just out of the reach of Elijah Stewart with his outstretched right arm and somehow flipping it in off the backboard while getting bumped. Alford snarled and coolly walked toward the sideline, where he high-fived a few fans before doing the same with his UCLA teammates.
A celebration nearly two years in the making for the Bruins began with about 61/2 minutes left in the game Saturday night. It continued when Lonzo Ball gathered what seemed like a wayward alley-oop pass from Alford with one hand and flushed it through the rim with both hands.
The decibel level inside Pauley Pavilion rose once more when Ball came up with a steal and dunk that allowed the Bruins to reach triple digits on the scoreboard with a little more than a minute left, triggering a profane anti-USC chant from UCLA students.
The sixth-ranked Bruins regained more than a foothold in their rivalry with USC, zooming past the Trojans for a 102-70 victory that ended a four-game losing streak in the series in emphatic fashion.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bruins forward TJ Leaf said. “The whole game was a ton of fun for all of us.”
The Bruins hit more highs over the game’s final 28 minutes than Keith Williams Jr. did in a rousing national anthem continually interrupted by cheers. Alford finished with 26 points and six assists, earning another high-five and a pat on the rump from Coach Steve Alford, after he checked out of the game. The elder Alford said he had seen that snarl from his son before during big moments going back to his days playing club basketball.
“It’s just what happens to my face,” Bryce Alford said. “I don’t know if one day it’s going to get stuck like that.”
The Bruins had their say on the court and in the interview room, bringing four players to take questions instead of the usual three. There were plenty of pleasurable topics to address after Leaf finished with 19 points and Thomas Welsh had 16 points and 16 rebounds to help UCLA (24-3 overall, 11-3 in the Pac-12) beat USC (21-6, 8-6) for the first time since the 2015 Pac-12 tournament and open a three-game lead over the Trojans in the conference standings.
UCLA might be playing its best basketball of the season after improving to 5-0 in February.
“Coach always says February sets up March,” said Ball, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, “so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Frustrations were evident for USC in the final minutes when Coach Andy Enfield earned an oddly timed technical foul while the Bruins were in transition. USC forward Bennie Boatwright, who missed the first meeting while recovering from a knee injury, had 20 points and 10 rebounds, but his teammates weren’t nearly as crisp as they had been against the Bruins last month. The Trojans shot 34% from the field Saturday and were outrebounded 50-33.
“We beat them the first time by making it tough for them on offense; we challenged shots,” 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.”
In the minutes before the game, the video scoreboard featured several statistics highlighting UCLA’s once-in-a-generation offense. One showed that the Bruins were averaging 91.9 points per game, best in the nation.
For first 12 minutes, it didn’t seem like the Bruins would hit 60. Two teams that like to play at a harried pace appeared stuck in slow motion in the early going. Then it was as if UCLA hit the fast-forward button after USC led, 23-18, with eight minutes left in the first half. The Bruins went on a 17-3 run and scored 28 points in those eight minutes.
“Once they got going,” USC guard Jordan McLaughlin said, “it's kind of tough to stop.”
Just before halftime, Ball dribbled well beyond the three-point line, the seconds ticking off the clock, before Leaf came out to set a pick that forced Boatwright to switch onto Ball. It was the matchup Ball wanted, and he rose  for a deep three-pointer that gave UCLA a 46-34 halftime lead and served as a good omen for the Bruins. They’d won all three previous games this season in which Ball had made a shot from long range in the seconds before halftime. 
Saturday would be no different.

Bill Plaschke: Bruins go to school on the Trojans

feb 18, 2017 | Bill plaschke | THE L.A. TIMES | ARTICLE LINK
Everyone knows the UCLA basketball team can score, and dish, and run through the gym as if they are flying.
But at a rollicking Pauley Pavilion that included all those things Saturday night, the Bruins proved capable of equally important attributes.
They can learn. They can grow. And yes, they can finally beat USC.
Barely two weeks after suffering their most discouraging loss of the season to the Trojans, the sixth-ranked Bruins outsmarted, outworked and outplayed them in a 102-70 victory that was even bigger than it looked.
“Incredible, really,” the Bruins’ Thomas Welsh said.
It was as big as Coach Steve Alford’s joyous stomps across the floor with every big Bruins defensive stop. It was as big as Bryce Alford’s eyes on jump shots he threw in from Wilshire Boulevard. It was as big as the steals and stutter-steps and alley-oop slams that fueled the Bruins’ second-half rout amid wild cheers filled with wonder.
“I’m having fun,” Steve Alford said. “I mean, this is a fun team.”
And, oh yeah, it was as large as the look of shock on a USC team not used to getting run out of its own town. The Trojans were outscored 29-9 in the final 7:44 and straggled off the court in a daze.

“It just snowballed,” Trojans Coach Andy Enfield said.
If the Bruins played like they needed this game more, well, they felt like they did.
If UCLA had lost, it would have been its fifth straight defeat to USC, the longest such streak in 74 years. It would also have come after a late January loss to the Trojans that was followed by a players-only meeting in the UCLA locker room in which the Bruins vowed to start playing defense.
Was that defeat a teaching moment? Did that meeting work? It turns out, yes and yes. The Bruins have now gone 5-0 since that loss at Galen Center, including a 19-point comeback in a victory over highly ranked Oregon and a win Saturday night that was wrapped in desperate relief.
You could see it written all over Bryce Alford’s face when he made two plays to clinch it. With 6:54 left, he hit a long three-pointer to give the Bruins a 15-point lead. Moments later, he was hammered on a layup yet somehow banked the ball in while falling to the floor.
When he stood up, he was snarling. That’s right, nice Bryce Alford was twisting his face into a Kobe Bryant jaw while slapping hands with courtside fans.
“I like it when he snarls, I wish he would snarl in warmups,” said Steve Alford, who then talked about seeing that look when watching films of his son after games. “Tanya and I do that late at night, we talk about that all the time, ‘He’s got that look, he’s got that look.’ When he gets that, he goes to another level toughness-wise. He got to that tonight and we needed that.”
One didn’t need to see the scoreboard — which read 79-61 after Bryce’s free throw — to know the game was over. One didn’t need to look at box scores to figure that Alford, who made one basket in the previous loss to USC, finished this game with redemption, eight baskets and 26 points.
“A Kobe Bryant face? I’ll take it,” Bryce said. “I’m so passionate, when I get it going for my team ... that’s just what happens to my face. I don’t know if one day it will get stuck like that.”
But, hey, if you did want to look at the box score, in the first meeting last month, USC ran past the Bruins with four guards and swarmed them into 17 turnovers in an eight-point victory.
This time, the Bruins ran smack over the Trojans, making more than half of their shots while holding USC to 34% shooting and outrebounding the Trojans by 17. Those turnovers dropped to 10, which, along with 23 assists and five players in double-figure scoring, is the definition of “team win.”
“The last five games, we’re scoring the ball again like early in the season,” Steve Alford said. “The difference is, we’re defending.”
UCLA is now 24-3 and still leading the nation in points and assists per game. For the Trojans, it was a missed opportunity to further prove themselves nationally. Entering the night, they were off to their best start in 25 years, at 21-5, yet still unranked and uncertain of a decent tournament seeding.
And it wasn’t like they never had a chance. With 7:57 left in the first half, the Trojans led, 23-18. Then Isaac Hamilton hit a jumper to start UCLA on a 28-9 run to end the half with the Bruins leading, 46-34, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
The comeback was fueled with defense, Welsh blocking Chimezie Metu, Gyorgy Goloman forcing Elijah Stewart out of bounds, hands in face, help coming from everywhere.
And, of course, the comeback was also fueled with shooting, Bryce Alford hitting two three-pointers, TJ Leaf active everywhere around the basket and, finally, Lonzo Ball with his usual dramatics.
In the final seconds of the half, just past the midcourt line, Ball dribbled and dribbled and then sank one of his from-the-hip threes to end the half with UCLA leading by a dozen.
Of course he did. It’s what he does. And for once, beating USC was something UCLA actually did, a night of growth, from the chill of late January into the oncoming heat of March.

Getting chatty has made UCLA talk of the town

If recent trends persist, the team that doesn’t like to talk can look back on the time it chattered like teenagers carrying on about the latest photo-sharing app as the moment that changed the trajectory of its season.
UCLA had just been throttled by USC on Jan. 25 when the Bruins lingered in their locker room inside the Galen Center. After Coach Steve Alford’s short postgame spiel, his son Bryce, the team’s shooting guard, made sure none of the players left and that the coaches weren’t in the room before leading an air-it-out session that lasted about 20 minutes.
Players talked about staying confident and having fun again after their first back-to-back losses of the season. More than anything, they talked about defense, the missing component on a team that could move the ball and score like a collegiate version of the Golden State Warriors.
“If we want to make a run in the [NCAA] tournament, that’s what our staple has to be,” Bryce Alford said late Saturday night after leading the No. 6 Bruins to a 102-70 victory over USC at Pauley Pavilion with 26 points and six assists. “We’ve got to get better on defense. I think every game from the last SC game, we’ve gotten better on defense and the stats won’t lie to you. Outside of about 20 minutes against Oregon, we’ve been playing really good defense.”
UCLA has gone 5-0 in February, handling its recent stretch like the opponents were non-conference pushovers instead of Pac-12 rivals. The Bruins (24-3 overall, 11-3 in the Pac-12) have won their last five games by an average of 22 points and handed USC its most lopsided defeat of the season.
They’ve done it by defending better for a sustained stretch than they have all season, while maintaining their ability to score with ease.
“We’ve had five games in a row,” Steve Alford said, “where our offensive efficiency has stayed at a high level and our defensive efficiency has gotten a lot better.”
The Bruins have exerted more ball pressure, though their success has transcended the traps and in-your-face presence of all five players on the court.
“Guys’ attitudes, I can start with that,” UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball said. “Everybody wants to get down and guard now. We know we can score with anybody in the country. Once we guard, we’re a hard team to beat.”
Steve Alford credited Ball as the defensive trendsetter, with his ability to generate steals and deflections carrying over to his teammates. Ball held USC counterpart Jordan McLaughlin, the Trojans’ primary playmaker, to five assists and nine points on three-for-10 shooting.
Ball also made what might have qualified as the defensive play of the game when he came over to swat a shot by Bennie Boatwright after the USC forward had pump-faked UCLA counterpart TJ Leaf out of the way.
“Lonzo’s stepped it up big-time on both ends but especially defensively as of recent and it’s definitely contagious, just like his unselfishness is contagious,” Leaf said. “On the defensive end, when he’s getting into people, it just builds for everyone else and everyone wants to get down in a stance, talk and just get these stops.”
The talking part remains an ongoing issue outside of the locker room. Steve Alford said he’s harped on the defensive principles of staying in a stance and conversing with teammates since the team traveled to Australia for an exhibition tour in August.
“The stance is making progress, the talking still has a lot of growth yet because we’ve got some guys that just have a quiet demeanor,” Alford said. “But the more we can talk and communicate, the better we are.”
On the plus side, the Bruins’ recent play has said plenty.