Steve Alford

UCLA has a lot to learn if they are going to be a contender in the Pac-12

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NEW YORK — UCLA will be worth the watch every time they take the floor this season.

That’s just what happens when you have as much talent as the Bruins do.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are both going to find themselves in the conversation for being all-americans and first round draft picks by the time the season ends. Whether they will be or not is something that will be determined by how they play and develop, both individually and within the team, over the course of the next four months. But at this point, it’s obvious that their names will be thrown into the mix. That’s just what happens when oneguy averaging more than 20 points and another guy approaches a triple-double on a nightly basis.

And here’s the craziest part: neither Anderson and Adams is the most talented player on the UCLA roster. That title would belong to Zach LaVine, an uber-athletic freshmen that entered Thursday night averaging 13.8 points and shooting 46.5% from three.

Throw the Wear twins, Bryce Alford and Norman Powell into the mix, and this is a group that will run the floor and score a lot of points this season.

Like I said, they’ll be worth the watch every time they take the floor.

But that doesn’t mean that they are going to be able to beat a lot of good teams.

The bottom line is this: The Bruins are a team that has to be able to score in transition to be able to win. They need games to be a track meet to be able to compete, and good teams will be able to slow them down.

The saying goes, it’s easier to slow a game down than it is to speed a game up, and there’s a reason that saying exists. Generally speaking, good basketball teams can do two things well: execute in the half court and defend. The two most effective ways at slowing the pace of a game down? Scoring, which forces teams to take the ball out of bounds instead of running off of a rebound or a turnover, and playing stout defense.

And at this point, when that happens to the Bruins, they struggle. Missouri did it two weeks ago, which is why UCLA was dominated in the second half by the Tigers, and Duke did it on Thursday.

“When pace is taken away, when transition games are taken away by good defensive teams, you’ve got to execute in the half court,” head coach Steve Alford said. “We’ve got to do a better job with that.”

To their credit, this is a young team, one that has a lot of guys learning new roles. Anderson just played his 11th game as a point guard. Tony Parker played less than five minutes per game last season. LaVine is a freshman, as is Alford. Adams is a sophomore coming off of a broken foot. Even Powell is playing more significant minutes than he ever has.

This team will get better with time.

But right now, they aren’t a top 25 team. They are probably a borderline NCAA tournament team considering the only two good teams they’ve played they lost to. UCLA has work to do in Pac-12 play, and they have work to do in practice before they get there.

The Bruins are probably never going to be a good defensive team, which is why Alford is playing more zone than he’s ever played as a coach. That means they need to learn to be able to execute in the half court, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.

“Are we ready for games like this?” Alford said. “I hope we are, but I hope we’re more prepared as we get closer to the end of the season. Games like this help us. ”

Brunson scores 18 points, No. 8 Villanova beats Stanford

Jalen Brunson
Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) Villanova struggled to score and rebound on Thursday night.

The Wildcats’ defense was good enough to still get a win.

No. 8 Villanova compensated for offensive and rebounding struggles by forcing 23 turnovers in a 59-45 victory over Stanford in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tipoff.

“We played pretty good defense but couldn’t rebound with them,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It was one of those nights we couldn’t make shots but hung in there defensively. Their rebounding was almost a difference maker but thank God it wasn’t.”

The Wildcats (5-0) advanced to face Georgia Tech in the championship game Friday.

Villanova won despite shooting 30.6 percent and getting outrebounded by a 55-35 margin against an opponent starting three players 6-foot-8 or taller. The Wildcats started one player taller than 6-6 but compensated for the size differential by holding Stanford to 26 percent from the floor.

“I didn’t think it would be this ugly on the boards but if we could have made a couple of shots it might not have been as ugly,” Wright said. “But I was proud the guys really grinded defensively.”

Freshman Jalen Brunson was one of few Wildcats not to struggle offensively and scored a career-high 18 points. Josh Hart added 10 points but was 4-for-13 shooting and combined with Ryan Arcidiacono to shoot 6 of 24, including 1 of 15 from 3-point range.

“I was doing what I always do,” Brunson said. “I try to play aggressive all the time. I saw they were backing off me a little bit so there is time for me to shoot and time for me to make other plays.”

Leading scorer Marcus Allen had 12 points but was 3 for 12 for Stanford (2-3). Dorian Pickens added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Stanford lost its third straight by double digits and will face Arkansas in the consolation game. The Cardinal missed their first 15 shots of the game and their first eight attempts of the second half while falling behind by 16.

Stanford was within seven on a basket by Reid Travis with 6:34 remaining, but Villanova scored the next six points and finished the game with a 13-6 run.

“They’re a very good defensive team, they’re active and they made a lot of plays,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “The thing we did most was we turned the ball over 23 times, so that was disappointing.”


Villanova: Seven of Villanova’s school-record 33 wins came in New York last season. The Wildcats won twice in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center, beat St. John’s and Illinois during the regular season at Madison Square Garden and won three games there for the Big East Tournament championship. … Guards Arcidiacono and Hart combined to miss their first 11 3-point attempts. Arcidiacono came into the game shooting 44 percent from 3-point range while Hart entered at 45 percent. … Darryl Reynolds tied a career high with 19 minutes, getting most of those in the second half after Daniel Ochefu picked up his fourth foul.

Stanford: Thursday was Stanford’s 13th game in New York since 2011-12. Last year, the Cardinal appeared in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, beating UNLV and losing to eventual national champion Duke. … Stanford faced Villanova for the second time. The other meeting was a 96-70 Cardinal loss on Dec. 23, 1970. … Stanford missed 12 layups and tip-ins during the first half. … Allen hit his head on the court trying to deflect the ball on a layup by Hart. Dawkins said Allen was a little dizzy but didn’t think the junior would miss any time.


Villanova: Georgia Tech in the championship game on Friday.

Stanford: Arkansas in the consolation game on Friday.

Justin Robinson, Monmouth knock off No. 17 Notre Dame

King Rice
Associated Press
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Less than two weeks after they opened their season with an upset win at UCLA, Monmouth picked up its first-ever win over a team ranked in the AP Top 25.

Two Justin Robinson free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as King Rice’s Hawks upset No. 17 Notre Dame at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, and the diminutive point guard was a problem for the Fighting Irish all night.

Robinson scored 22 points, with 14 of them coming from the foul line as Notre Dame’s guards struggled to keep the quick guard contained off the dribble. He was one of three¬†Hawks to score in double figures, and their combination of depth and athleticism proved problematic for Mike Brey’s team. All five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures, with Demetrius Jackson’s 20 leading the way, but the lack of depth proved problematic as the game wore on.

Notre Dame didn’t get a single point from its bench, with Matt Farrell and Matt Ryan combining to play 28 minutes. That lack of depth not only cost Notre Dame Thursday night, but it’s something they’ll have to figure out if they’re to be a contender in the ACC. Jackson and Steve Vasturia ran into foul trouble against Monmouth, and the lack of a bench option capable of picking up the slack led to Monmouth building up a ten-point lead in the second half.

Notre Dame tried to account for that by slowing down the tempo, but in doing so they struggled to find quality looks against the Monmouth defense. And given the players at Rice’s disposal, it’s tough to slow the game down against a team that can get after you on both ends of the floor.

Monmouth entered this season with expectations of contending for a MAAC title alongside the likes of perennial favorites Iona and Manhattan, and their start to the season backs up that belief. With two players in Robinson and Deon Jones who have earned all-conference honors during their careers and a host of contributors that includes guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Micah Seaborn, this is a group to keep an eye on as the season wears on.

Because if they can earn a bid, Monmouth’s non-conference schedule will have them prepared for the NCAA tournament.