Norman Powell

Norman Powell sees defense, rebounding as keys for UCLA

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LONG BEACH, California — Tuesday night a water main break sent some eight billion gallons of water onto the UCLA campus, with multiple athletic facilities receiving most of the damage. One such facility was Pauley Pavilion, which is home to five of UCLA’s athletic teams and underwent a $136 million renovation that was completed in 2012. With the court and the locker rooms being flooded, head coach Steve Alford’s program will need to make adjustments as the school makes the repairs needed to have Pauley Pavilion ready in time for the start of basketball season.

As a result, the opportunity for five Bruins to participate in the adidas Nations camp this weekend comes at a good time (the flooding of the facilities was not good, obviously).

One of the five UCLA players in attendance is senior guard Norman Powell, who as a junior put together the best season of his career. Always a solid defender and athlete, Powell made major strides offensively for a team that won the Pac-12 tournament title and reached the Sweet 16. Powell scored 11.4 points per game in 2013-14, increasing his scoring output by more than five points per game from 2012-13 (6.1 ppg).

“[This camp] is definitely a positive,”Powell told NBCSports.com. “We’ve got a lot of guys here, five of us in total, so we’re going to get a lot of experience. We’re playing on the same team so we’re able to build that chemistry early, which is what we want to do. We’re just excited to be around a lot of talented guys and also have the chance to be looked at for the next level [by NBA scouts].”

Joining Powell at the camp are junior forward Tony Parker, sophomore guard Bryce Alford and freshmen Jonah Bolden and Kevon Looney (he did not participate in the morning session). And with the Bruins having to account for the loss of four of their top six scorers from last season, most notably Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, they’ll all be important figures for UCLA in 2014-15.

Offensively the Bruins were a very gifted group last season, and in speaking with Powell he expects that to once again be the case with sophomore Isaac Hamilton in line to provide added scoring punch after having to sit out all of last season and graduate transfer Jon Octeus (from Colorado State) joining the program. However if there are two areas in which UCLA will need to improve if they’re to once again contend for a Pac-12 title, those areas are defending and rebounding.

Last season UCLA ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense and seventh in three-point percentage defense, and from a rebounding standpoint opponents managed to grab 28.6% of their missed shot attempts (sixth in the Pac-12). Despite being a middle of the pack team in those areas a season ago UCLA was able to win 28 games in Alford’s first season. If they’re to have a shot at meeting (or even exceeding) those marks in 2014-15, leaders such as Powell will need to spark an improvement when it comes to getting stops and completing them with a rebound.

Do that and the Bruins will have ample opportunities to get out in the open court, which will in turn ensure that they remain among the contenders in the Pac-12.

“We’d get stops but we didn’t finish them with a rebound, [which would allow us] to push the ball offensively,” Powell noted. “That’s what we’re going to need to work on in the offseason, getting everybody to know what Coach [Alford] wants us to do, being [in the proper spots] help-side, being able to crack down and help the bigs when they need to rotate and just rebounding well.

“There were a lot of games where we lost [due to] defensive rebounding, so we just need to pick that up. We can score with anybody in the country. We proved that last year, and we still have guys who can score this year, so we’re just really looking forward to improving those aspects of our game.”

Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State knock off No. 1 Oklahoma

Kansa State forward Wesley Iwundu (25) pulls down a rebound against Mississippi during an NCAA college basketball game in Manhattan, Kansas, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (Bo Rader /The Wichita Eagle via AP) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT; LOCAL RADIO OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Bo Rader /The Wichita Eagle via AP
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One of the big questions regarding No. 1 Oklahoma was how they’d handle an off shooting night. On multiple occasions this season the Sooners have managed to win in spite of a subpar effort from one of their guards, thanks in large part to national Player of the Year frontrunner Buddy Hield. But what would they do against a team that managed to limit Hield (by his standards)?

That’s what happened at Kansas State Saturday night, and the Sooners did not have the right answers for the Wildcats on either end of the floor. Wesley Iwundu scored 22 points, dished out seven assists and played excellent defense on Hield throughout the game to lead the way. And freshman forward Dean Wade chipped in with 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench as the Wildcats won by the final score of 80-69.

Hield scored 23 points but did so on 7-for-16 shooting, and a lot of that damage was done during the second half as he scored 17 points during the game’s final 20 minutes. But it wasn’t enough as the Sooners didn’t get much from anyone other than Ryan Spangler (nine points) as they looked to mount a comeback. Jordan Woodard, who’s been a consistent supplementary scoring option this season, went scoreless Saturday and that essentially left Oklahoma with three scorers (Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins).

It’s highly unlikely that anyone’s going to completely take away Hield; the key there is to make him work for everything he gets and the long, athletic Iwundu managed to do that. But if you can take away one (or more) of Oklahoma’s supplementary scorers you’ve got a shot at knocking them off.

Oklahoma also had issues defensively, as the Wildcats shot 52.9 percent from the field. Iwundu was very good at finding scoring opportunities not only for himself but for his teammates as well, and in the post players such as Wade and D.J. Johnson were effective against Spangler, Khadeem Lattin and Akolda Manyang. Kansas State outplayed Oklahoma in the post, and their execution offensively helped the Wildcats pull off the upset despite committing 15 turnovers.

If not for those turnovers the margin likely would have been worse for Oklahoma, which scored 26 points off of Kansas State turnovers and many of its 15 fast break points came via K-State mistakes. The Sooners are lethal in transition, something we’ve seen on many occasions this season. Kansas State, when they didn’t turn the ball over, kept Oklahoma from running out and finding the quality looks that have made them so successful.

As a result, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats made sure that Hield and his fellow Oklahoma seniors will graduate without a win in Manhattan.

Ryan Anderson, Gabe York pace No. 23 Arizona at Washington

Arizona's Ryan Anderson (12) dunks against Washington State's Conor Clifford (42) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. Arizona won 79-64. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
College basketball is better when the Arizona-Washington rivalry is relevant, and we got a perfect example of that on Saturday, as No. 23 Arizona landed an important, 77-72 win at Washington in a ugly-but-thrilling game. Washington has one of the nation's most high-octane, uptempo offenses, as Lorenzo Romar does what he can to maximize the pieces that he has on his roster. Andrew Andrews and DeJounte Murray make up one of the nation's most talented backcourts, and when combined with the myriad of athletes of populate the rest of the roster, what you get is a team that is top five in pace, according to KenPom.com. What they don't have is much strength in the paint, and Ryan Anderson took complete advantage of that. The fifth-year senior had arguably his best game as a Wildcats, finishing with 22 points and 15 boards -- eight offensive -- to pace Arizona. Gabe York added 18 points as well, which is a great sign for the Wildcats. The knock on this team has been that they don't have a star or a go-to guy, and two of them stepped up in a tough road game on Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, it was Kadeem Allen that his the biggest shot of the game, hitting a three to break a 70-all tie with a minute left in the game. And should we mention that Allonzo Trier, who was Arizona's leading scorer when he broke his hand a month ago, returned to the lineup? Yeah, we probably should, because Trier is the best one-on-one player that Sean Miller has on his roster. All-in-all, this was a promising road trip for Arizona, who got swept at home by the Oregon schools last weekend. I'm not sure that Arizona, who is still two games back of Oregon in the Pac-12 standings, has a real shot of winning the league's regular season title. But I am sure that, when they're at full-strength and playing well, the Wildcats are good enough to win the Pac-12 tournament and get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
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College basketball is better when the Arizona-Washington rivalry is relevant, and we got a perfect example of that on Saturday, as No. 23 Arizona landed an important, 77-72 win at Washington in a ugly-but-thrilling game.

Washington has one of the nation’s most high-octane, uptempo offenses, as Lorenzo Romar does what he can to maximize the pieces that he has on his roster. Andrew Andrews and DeJounte Murray make up one of the nation’s most talented backcourts, and when combined with the myriad of athletes of populate the rest of the roster, what you get is a team that is top five in pace, according to KenPom.com.

What they don’t have is much strength in the paint, and Ryan Anderson took complete advantage of that.

The fifth-year senior had arguably his best game as a Wildcats, finishing with 22 points and 15 boards — eight offensive — to pace Arizona. Gabe York added 18 points as well, which is a great sign for the Wildcats. The knock on this team has been that they don’t have a star or a go-to guy, and two of them stepped up in a tough road game on Saturday.

Perhaps more importantly, it was Kadeem Allen that his the biggest shot of the game, hitting a three to break a 70-all tie with a minute left in the game.

And should we mention that Allonzo Trier, who was Arizona’s leading scorer when he broke his hand a month ago, returned to the lineup? Yeah, we probably should, because Trier is the best one-on-one player that Sean Miller has on his roster.

All-in-all, this was a promising road trip for Arizona, who got swept at home by the Oregon schools last weekend.

I’m not sure that Arizona, who is still two games back of Oregon in the Pac-12 standings, has a real shot of winning the league’s regular season title.

But I am sure that, when they’re at full-strength and playing well, the Wildcats are good enough to win the Pac-12 tournament and get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.