Defensive effort, Norman Powell stand out for No. 25 UCLA in Boulder

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With No. 21 Colorado receiving much of the attention heading into Thursday night’s game against No. 25 UCLA due to the loss of starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, the contest was likely to be more of a referendum on the Buffaloes than the Bruins. Steve Alford’s team took No. 1 Arizona down to the wire last week, and with a 13-3 record UCLA entered the game in good shape.

So what are the biggest things to take out of their 69-56 win in Boulder? First and foremost, UCLA defended as well as they have in any big game this season, with Colorado shooting 40% from the field and committing 17 turnovers on the night. With their ability to get out in the open floor and convert those opportunities into quick points UCLA scored 20 points off of those turnovers, and that combined with their 20 second-chance points helped the Bruins make up for shooting 39.4% from the field.

After keeping their first five opponents of the season below 40% shooting UCLA had done so just once since, with Weber State shooting 39.3% on December 22. This isn’t a team loaded with defensive stoppers, so it’s going to take a group effort and a combination of looks for UCLA to get the job done on that end of the floor. Against Colorado the Bruins used both man and zone looks, and while Colorado’s Askia Booker and Josh Scott combined to score 40 points their teammates combined to shoot 6-for-27 from the field and score 16 points.

As noted UCLA had some issues on the offensive end, with Kyle Anderson shooting 2-for-7 from the field (six points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals) and Jordan Adams going 4-for-15 (he did finish with 14 points and 13 rebounds). Even though Adams provided six offensive rebounds and proved difficult for Colorado to contain in the second half, the Bruins needed others to step up and junior guard Norman Powell certainly did.

Scoring in double figures just once in the five games prior to his 11-point outing against Arizona State, Powell accounted for 19 points to go along with four steals and three rebounds against Colorado.

On the season Powell’s been an improved player on the offensive end, entering Thursday shooting 56% from the field and increasing his scoring average from 6.1 to 10.7 ppg. With Adams, Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine the Bruins have multiple players capable of knocking down three-pointers, which allows Powell to be a slasher both in the half court and in the open floor. And while he may not receive the attention of the Bruins’ other scoring options, that’s a key component for them to have moving forward.

It’s been asked who the second-best team in the Pac-12 is, with currently undefeated (and approaching full strength) California receiving more than a few endorsements in the aftermath of their 82-56 pasting of Washington. But don’t forget about UCLA, and a week from Sunday those two teams will meet at Pauley Pavilion.

Illinois’ injury woes continue as starting center needs knee surgery

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Illinois suffered another blow in what has already turned out to be a brutal season.

Mike Thorne is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus. He reportedly underwent surgery on Monday to repair the injury.

Thorne, a transfer from Charlotte, was starting at center for the Illini and doing a good job of it as well. He was averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 boards, although Illinois has started off the season 3-4.

The reason for that slow start has mainly been those injuries. Tracy Abrams is already out for the season after tearing his achilles, and the Illini training room looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Kendrick Nunn just returned two games ago from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. LeRon Black is still getting back to speed after offseason knee surgery. Jaylon Tate is back after dislocating a finger. Jalen Coleman-Lands was slowed by a stress fracture.

John Groce entered this season on the hot seat, and dealing with all of these injuries certainly isn’t helping his cause.

NEW PODCAST: Recapping Feast Week

Kris Dunn
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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We talk about a lot of stuff of the podcast today, mainly because a lot of stuff happened since we last spoke with you all.

For starters, we need to discuss the ‘realness’ of Syracuse and Xavier. Are they both truly top 15 teams, or do they just have top 15 resumes? We also dive into Chris Mack’s epic troll-job of Dayton at the Advocare Invitational final.

Other topics we touched on: Whether or not Scott is ever going to apologize to Wayne Selden, Wichita State’s tournament hopes, Texas A&M and whether we’d take Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine today.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here. It’s the quickest way to get access on your cell phone or tablet.