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Friday, March 17, 2017
UCLA looking to get offense back in gear for NCAA opener against Kent State
mar 16, 2017 | THUC NHI NGUYEN |o.c.
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UCLA’s machine-like offense malfunctioned at the worst possible time. However, seven days made for ample time to reboot.
The Bruins, coming off their two worst shooting performances of the season, open the NCAA Tournament on Friday against Kent State in Sacramento at 6:57 p.m. The No. 3 seed in the South Region, UCLA leads the country in scoring at 90.4 points per game and is ready to return to that mark.
“We talked about it this week: be true to who we are,” Coach Steve Alford said.
In their purest form, the Bruins are run and fun, constant ball movement and a blur of blue and gold. During their past two games, they were stuck in the Las Vegas mud.
USC held UCLA to a then-season low 41.2 percent shooting in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. The Bruins sank even lower against Arizona in the semifinals, shooting just 40.7 percent from the field. Forget their 90-point average, they barely scratched out 76.
Alford said the conference tournament was the first time this season he felt the Bruins were knocked off their offensive game. Not only did their tempo slow, but their efficiency suffered. According to the coach, the team operated more than 20 points below its average offensive efficiency rating during the Pac-12 Tournament.
The team’s floor general, freshman Lonzo Ball, was hampered by a thumb injury during the tournament. Despite the light dressing of tape on his left hand, he said he can easily play through the sprain this weekend. The point guard is coming off an especially ineffective game against Arizona in which he had eight points on 2-for-7 shooting, six assists and four turnovers.
Only a year ago, Ball was in Sacramento leading his Chino Hills High team to a CIF state title. His college career will be brief, but it has been bright as well as he is only two assists from tying UCLA’s single-season record of 256, held by Larry Drew II.
“Lonzo, not only is he just fun to coach – I was a player first – he’s fun to be on the same team with,” Alford said.
Senior Bryce Alford, whose role was reduced with Ball’s rise, said this season is the “most fun that I’ve had playing basketball at UCLA.”
“We love to have fun,” Bryce said. “We’re a goofy team in the locker room. We like to have fun with each other. We’re a very close team.”
Even at practice, the Bruins like to entertain. During Thursday’s open practice in front of a smattering of fans at the Golden 1 Center, they had impromptu dunk contests and rained shot attempts from mid-court. Ball bounced a ball to himself and slammed down a one-handed windmill dunk. Young fans called for him to try a dunk from the free throw line. Forward TJ Leaf drained his leaping half-court shot. Ball gave him a celebratory chest bump. Fans applauded.
The Bruins hope they can keep the applause coming this weekend.
Two-thirds of UCLA’s trio of star freshmen are as close to 100 percent as they can be heading into Friday’s game. It’s the last one that might be a concern for the Bruins.
Forward Ike Anigbogu is day-to-day with a sprained foot, Steve Alford said Thursday. The freshman suffered the injury in practice Tuesday and his status is “up in the air,” the coach said. It likely will come down to a game-time decision.
Anigbogu observed Thursday’s practice from the sideline wearing a protective black book on his left foot. He is a key member of UCLA’s defense with 34 blocks in 27 games this season.
Ball and Leaf (ankle) shouldn’t be slowed for their NCAA Tournament debuts. Both fully participated in Thursday’s practice.