NOV 23, 2016 | BEN BOLCH | THE L.A. TIMES | ARTICLE LINK
Steve Alford knows it’s coming despite the high-scoring romps, the nonstop ball movement, the feeling that UCLA’s early season euphoria might stretch all the way into late March.
There will be a time when the shots don’t fall so easily, the ball gets stuck in a few players’ hands, the scoreboard defies the Bruins. Only then will UCLA learn whether it has the resolve to go with its talent.
“Adversity hasn’t hit,” said Alford, whose team has defeated its four opponents by an average of 27.8 points, “and that sometimes can help build things or it can rip things apart. There’s going to be adversity hit at some point. How do we handle that? How do we handle a close game? Where does the ball go? Who takes the shot? How do we get the stop?
“These are all things that this team hasn’t endured yet that we will endure. I’m anxious to see how we respond to it because we’ve got a great group of guys that really care.”
The No. 14 Bruins (4-0) could find out during an upcoming stretch that will be their toughest in a young season. They will open the Wooden Legacy on Thursday night at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym against Portland (3-0), the start of a three-games-in-four-days test that could include two bedtime starts.
The winner of UCLA’s first game will play either Dayton or Nebraska at 9 p.m. Friday, leading to a daylong wait.
“Those late games, sometimes you get caught sitting in a hotel room all day, so I’m sure the coaches will do a good job of letting us get out, letting us go on a walk, do something,” Bruins guard Bryce Alford said. “Usually we get out of the hotel room just so we’re not so anxious, because we’re so ready to play …. That’s a challenge, but I think we’ll handle it pretty well.”
UCLA will play its final game in the tournament Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim against either Virginia Tech, New Mexico, Texas A&M or CSUN. The Bruins already defeated CSUN, 102-87, earlier this month.
Steve Alford said he wasn’t thinking about a possible championship matchup because the three potential opponents on UCLA’s half of the bracket have a combined 8-1 record.
“The competition will bring the best out of us,” Bruins guard Isaac Hamilton said. “We just have to be a little nastier on defense to get more stops.”
This will be UCLA’s first appearance in the tournament formerly known as the 76 Classic since a 2009 performance at the Anaheim Convention Center that included an opening-round loss to Portland as part of an 0-3 weekend.
These Pilots have some similarities to the Bruins, at least stylistically. They like to push the pace and feature a star guard in senior Alec Wintering, a first-team All-West Coast Conference selection last season who leads the team with averages of 19.0 points and 8.0 assists per game. Portland also has a stretch power forward in junior Gabe Taylor, who has made 44.4% of his three-point attempts while leading the Pilots with 8.0 rebounds per game.
Like UCLA, Portland has also routed its early opponents, winning its games by an average of 25 points.
UCLA’s willingness to share the ball could gird the Bruins for the inevitable hardship that awaits this season. Freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf have been among the team’s best passers, winning the immediate respect of more veteran players and leading to cohesiveness. Six UCLA players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by Leaf’s 20.3 points per game.
“Whoever’s hot that night we’re going to continue to feed him,” Bryce Alford said, “and if we’re all hot then we’re just going to keep sharing.”
The unselfish approach has led to what could be UCLA’s early season mantra: The team that slays together stays together.
UCLA VS. PORTLAND
When: Thursday, 8 p.m. PST.
Where: Titan Gym at Cal State Fullerton.
On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 570.
Update: UCLA (4-0) expects freshman forward-center Ike Anigbogu to make his season debut at some point during the three-game Wooden Legacy, possibly in the opener against Portland (3-0). Anigbogu has been sidelined since last month after undergoing surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee.
Bruins Coach Steve Alford is familiar with Portland counterpart Terry Porter, having faced him in the NBA when Porter was an All-Star point guard with the Portland Trail Blazers. Porter had stints as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns before the Pilots hired him in April.
Portland assistant coach Bob Cantu is a former assistant and interim head coach at USC.