mar 21, 2017 | BEN BOLCH | THE L.A. TIMES | ARTICLE LINK
The highlight isn’t always over whenever a play involving Ike Anigbogu ends.
His dunks and rejections often come with their own soundtrack that can be every bit as entertaining as whatever preceded them.
The UCLA freshman was trailing a Bruins fastbreak against then-No. 1 Kentucky in December when teammate Bryce Alford’s three-point shot bounced high off the back of the rim, allowing Anigbogu to snatch the ball in midair with his massive hands and throw down a ferocious dunk.
Then came the bass in the Bluegrass.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Anigbogu roared.
A few minutes later, Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe took a pass inside and elevated over Alford for what looked like a sure basket, until Anigbogu stepped over and leaped to swat the shot with his right arm.
Anigbogu then lowered another verbal boom.
“Yeaaaahhhhhh!” he hollered.
UCLA would surely love a noisy encore performance by Anigbogu on Friday evening in a rematch between the teams, a game with much larger stakes than the Bruins’ 97-92 triumph over Kentucky during the regular season.
The third-seeded Bruins (31-4) will face the second-seeded Wildcats (31-5) in an NCAA tournament South Regional semifinal at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.
If all goes well, Anigbogu will be heard as well as seen.
“He’s an energetic guy and I guess when you make the thunderous dunks and blocks he does, it’s kind of hard not to yell,” Alford said Tuesday. “That’s just kind of who he is when he makes a big play.”
Anigbogu’s impact easily transcends his modest statistics of 4.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game. He ranks third on the team with 35 blocks while playing less than half as many minutes as Thomas Welsh (42 blocks) and TJ Leaf (38).
He was a game-changer in only seven minutes during UCLA’s second-round tournament victory over Cincinnati on Sunday after returning from a foot injury, scoring six points and blocking one shot. He took a pass from Lonzo Ball over the top of the defense for a two-handed dunk that came with the requisite roar.
“I just want to make a difference any way I can, whether it’s blocking shots, rebounding, finishing in the paint,” Anigbogu, who was receiving treatment on his foot during player interviews Tuesday, said earlier this season.
He’s easily the most intimidating presence on the team, a brawny 6 feet 10 and 250 pounds. His size-18 shoes have required stretching by the Bruins’ equipment manager to accommodate a player who presents a nice contrast to the more finesse-oriented Welsh.
“When he gets in there, he just brings a different pace, a different style than Tom does,” Leaf said, “and he creates havoc.”
Anigbogu can be as hard to stop as his name (EE-kay an-nee-BOH-goo) can be difficult to pronounce, though he became such an immediate fan favorite that students got it right from the season’s first pregame roll call. The only problem was that UCLA Coach Steve Alford couldn’t call Anigbogu’s name to come off the bench for the season’s first five games because the player wasn’t available. He was recovering from knee surgery.
Anigbogu also sat out a game in February as a precaution after experiencing soreness in the same knee. Then he sprained his left foot in practice last week and missed UCLA’s tournament opener against Kent State. Steve Alford said Anigbogu was progressing well in his recovery and hoped he could play a larger role against Kentucky.
Anigbogu’s value seems particularly high against athletic teams like the Wildcats, because he serves as a final line of defense against skilled guards who continually attack the rim.
“Having Ike out there,” Steve Alford said, “he’s just a presence around the rim.”
Anigbogu presents a more cuddly figure around his teammates, including a chuckle that doesn’t jibe with his appearance.
“We know him as a big teddy bear, so it’s kind of different,” Bryce Alford said. “When you hear him laugh, you don’t think it’s coming from him.”
Ball’s father, LaVar, told SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio that sons LiAngelo and LaMelo would attend UCLA even if Steve Alford departed for Indiana after this season. “We’re L.A. boys,” LaVar Ball said. “We’re not Indiana boys.” LiAngelo Ball, a senior at Chino Hills High, has signed a letter of intent with UCLA, and LaMelo Ball, a sophomore, has committed to the Bruins. … Isaac Hamilton needs 15 points to surpass Sidney Wicks (1,423 points) and move into 25th place on the school’s all-time scoring list. … UCLA will hold an open practice that is free to the public from 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. CDT on Thursday at FedEx Forum.