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No. 14 UCLA holds off Nebraska 81-71

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FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford wants the ball in his hands during critical moments at the end of games. He had it, and he delivered, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half to pace the No. 14 Bruins to a 82-71 victory over Nebraska in the Wooden Legacy semifinals Friday at Cal State Fullerton.

The Bruins (6-0) will play Texas A&M in Sunday’s championship game at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Alford made a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to give UCLA a 77-66 lead. He made all four of his free throws after that. Isaac Hamilton scored 15 points and Lonzo Ball added 13 for UCLA. Center Thomas Welsh had his fourth double double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

“As a basketball player, those are the kind of moments you live for,” Bryce Alford said. “That’s something I’ve always prided myself on, being a closer … It’s about making smart plays down the stretch to help our team win games. I put (us) in a position to do that tonight.”

Nebraska (4-1) was led by Glynn Watson Jr., who scored a game-high 27 points.

The Bruins led 38-25 at halftime and on the first play of the second half, star freshman guard Ball wowed as he converted an alleyoop dunk with a pass from T.J. Leaf. He had many more highlight-reel plays after that. Midway through the second half, he tried to convert an alleyoop pass that was just off the mark into a basket. It didn’t fall, but he tipped in his own miss for the score.

Nebraska made just 10 of 35 shots in the first half for a dismal 28.6 field-goal percentage. The Cornhuskers made just one 3-pointer and shot 12.5 percent from long range. Nebraska cut the lead to two points at 58-56 on a 3-pointer from Watson Jr., but it would never get closer.

“I felt like we were very tentative in the first half,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “That’s not like us. I thought the second half was more of a snapshot of what we’re like. But every time got the game down to 2 or 3, they answered. Alford made some tough shots. (Aaron) Holiday made some tough shots. They hurt us. We didn’t get enough outside shooting.”

Ball left the game with four fouls for a 3:03-span but came back with 4:58 left in the game and then fouled out.

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost for just the first time this season in playing one of the country’s top teams. The third-place game won’t be easy, but Nebraska has an extra day to prepare for Virginia Tech.

UCLA: The Bruins played on national television but perhaps didn’t make many inroads with the East Coast audience as the game started at 12 a.m., EST. The Wooden Legacy championship game is at a much more viewer-friendly hour at 8:30 p.m. EST on Sunday.

UP NEXT

Nebraska plays Virginia Tech in the third-place game on Sunday. They’ll have work to do in preparing for a physical team that just suffered its first loss of the season as well.

UCLA gets one day off before playing in the championship game against Texas A&M on Sunday. The Bruins are playing in the final of the tournament named after Wooden, who won 10 national championships in Westwood. No pressure.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

UCLA cemented its status as a top-15 team by surviving its first real test of the season against a Big Ten Conference team.

STAT OF THE NIGHT

UCLA is 4-0 in the all-time series against Texas A&M. The teams last played in the Wooden Classic in 2006 and 2008. Both of those games were decided by three points or less.

HE SAID

Nebraska lost its first game of the season but is scheduled to be at the happiest place on earth on Saturday – Disneyland – before playing Virginia Tech for third place on Sunday.

“… We have to bounce back. We can’t hang our heads. (Saturday), we can mope around and hang out with Goofy and Minney and Mickey, that’s fine, but on Sunday we need to be ready to go in and go to battle.”

— Nebraska coach Tim Miles

HE SAID WHAT?

On Thursday night, Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, guaranteed in a nationally-televised interview that UCLA would win the national championship. Asked how he felt about that, the freshman said: “I’m thankful for him. That’s how he is. Loud and to the point. I’m his son, so why wouldn’t he want the best for me?”

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.

Report: NCAA ‘anticipates’ hearing UNC case in mid-August

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Today, the AP churned out a story on Greg Sankey’s involvement with the NCAA’s investigation into the academic scandal at North Carolina, and buried within that story is this little nugget:

UNC must respond to the latest charges by May 16. The NCAA enforcement staff then has until July 17 for its own response. Sankey wrote that his panel will hear the case in August with “anticipated” dates of Aug. 16 and 17.

Rulings typically come weeks to months later.

We’ve been down this road before, as the current iteration of the Notice of Allegations is the third that the NCAA has provided the university. The first was given out back in May of 2015 for an investigation that began back in 2010.