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Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Freshman Lonzo Ball will lead UCLA basketball team's new up-tempo attack
OCT 12, 2016 | clay fowler | O.C. REGISTER| ARTICLE LINK
LOS ANGELES – More than a month before basketball season begins for UCLA, the urgency was already obvious at Pauley Pavilion.
Not so much in the sense one might expect from fourth-year coach Steve Alford, whose job has been called for since the Bruins posted the program’s third losing record in 68 years last season. But in the manner the Bruins’ new-look offense incessantly pushed the ball, previewing what figures to be an up-tempo attack as it features the strengths of its heralded freshman class.
The new pace is so breakneck that even point guard Lonzo Ball, whose Chino Hills High team scored 98 points a game, isn’t keeping up.
“(Alford) tells me to push it faster than I’ve been pushing it,” Ball said.
Due in no small part to the best recruiting class in Alford’s tenure, UCLA’s roster is deeper and more athletic than in recent memory. The Bruins couldn’t ask for a better player to quarterback a fast-breaking offense than Ball, who senior Bryce Alford called probably the best passer he has played with.
The sense of urgency on offense is warranted after UCLA ranked 73rd nationally in possessions per 40 minutes last season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical rankings.
“Pace of play, that’s what we need,” Steve Alford said. “(Ball) is doing a good job of going downhill offensively. … We want him going even faster because he’s got the ability to play at a really good pace and I think we’ve got guys around him that can play at that pace. And now you go through October trying to develop that trust.”
UCLA could feature as many as four guards on the court, including Ball, Bryce Alford, sophomore Aaron Holiday and last season’s leading scorer, senior Isaac Hamilton.
The tempo figures to be fast no matter who is on the court, but how the Bruins’ lineup evolves is dependent on countless factors.
Alford stated Wednesday the need to find minutes for the deepest frontcourt he has possessed in his tenure.
Freshmen T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu complete the 2016 recruiting classrivals.com ranked No. 5 in the country. The power forward and center, respectively, both run the floor well, though Leaf is a more potent offensive threat.
Anigbogu, however, provides a defensive presence UCLA hasn’t had under Alford. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound center could carve out a vital niche offsetting the offensive strengths of the rest of the team as a rim protector and physical rebounder.
“We definitely want to play defense a lot better than the guys did last year,” Leaf said. “If we have some bad possessions, bad games defensively, we’re going to get in the film room and keep working on it.”
Of the four guards, the best defender of the group is the one who could see his minutes reduced the most from last year. Holiday, a combination guard Steve Alford is molding into someone who can run the point, is far and away the best defender of the group. A starter last season, he is likely fourth in line behind Ball and established veterans Hamilton and Bryce Alford.
The rotation will need to make room for sophomore Prince Ali when he returns from meniscus surgery. Perhaps the most athletic player on the roster, Ali may not be back until December.
“I think we have the perfect mix” Bryce Alford said. “We have a lot of good talent coming in but a lot of guys who have played and done just about everything at this level.”