Stellar offense, improved second-half defense leads UCLA past Colorado

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Steve Alford’s UCLA Bruins hosted Colorado on Thursday with the winner taking a step forward in the quest to not only determine the Pac-12’s second-best team but also keep pace with an Arizona squad that has some tough road games remaining on its schedule. And thanks to some excellent offensive execution the Bruins were the ones who took that step, as they beat the Buffaloes 92-74 with sophomore Kyle Anderson leading the way.

Anderson is one of the nation’s most versatile players, with his ability to not only score but also rebound and distribute the basketball being one reason why UCLA has been the Pac-12’s most efficient offensive team in conference play. Against Colorado, Anderson accounted for 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on a night that saw the Bruins shoot 56.5% from the field and 11-for-22 from beyond the arc.

Why did UCLA shoot so well? Partly because they shared the ball. 25 of the Bruins’ 35 made field goals were assisted, with Jordan Adams (17 points, seven rebounds) and Norman Powell (ten points) accounting for four assists apiece and David Wear finishing with three assists to supplement the 11 credited to Anderson.

However the biggest difference against Colorado was UCLA’s improved defense in the second half, and that area (along with the consistency of their front court) will determine just how many games this team can win in the NCAA tournament. After shooting 55.2% in the first half, with Askia Booker and Josh Scott getting whatever they wanted offensively, Colorado made just 37.5% of its shots in the second half.

The quality looks Colorado found in the first half weren’t as plentiful in the second, and the combination of that and UCLA playing even better offensively resulted in an 18-point victory for the Bruins.

What also bodes well for UCLA moving forward is the fact that Bryce Alford, who shot 3-for-14 in the three games prior, snapped out of his slump and scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine have been key pieces for UCLA this season due to their ability to provide scoring off the bench. This can help on nights when the front court struggles offensively, although the Wear twins and Tony Parker still need to be factors defensively and on the boards.

So how good can UCLA be? There’s clearly plenty of talent at Steve Alford’s disposal, with his 6-foot-9 floor general leading the way. But for all that talent, UCLA’s fate in March will be determined by their commitment to defense and the consistency of their big men. With David Wear struggling, Travis Wear tallied 13 points and seven rebounds with Parker adding six points and five rebounds.

The offensive skills of UCLA’s perimeter rotation, led by Anderson, will continue to receive the headlines and rightfully so. But it’s the “little things” that result in postseason success, and in the second half of Thursday’s win the Bruins did a better job of addressing those areas.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman¬†that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.