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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?”

Report: North Carolina won’t attend White House

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After capturing a national championship earlier this year, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will not be visiting the White House, a North Carolina spokesman said to Andrew Carter of the The Charlotte Observer.

Although the Tar Heels were invited to go to the White House from the staff of President Donald Trump, the team couldn’t figure out a date that worked.

“We couldn’t find a date that worked for both parties,” North Carolina team spokesman Steve Kirschner said to Carter. “We tried about eight or nine dates and between they couldn’t work out that date, we couldn’t work out that date, so – we would have liked to have gone, but not going.”

According to Carter’s report, Kirschner also said that North Carolina players, “were fine with going.”

With Trump’s recent comments towards NFL players and the national anthem and his Saturday morning tweet at Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the President with regards to athletes over the past 24 hours.

Although the timing of this may seem like North Carolina is making some sort of political statement, the school is downplaying any sort of politics by focusing on the bad timing.

Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer

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Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer from the program to move closer to home, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-7 Ridder hails from Springfield, Missouri as he was regarded as a top-150 prospect by Rivals in the Class of 2017.

“After much consideration and talking with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to move home,” Ridder said in the release.

“Jared has indicated to the coaching staff that he has a desire to be closer to home,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “While we are disappointed, we all want Jared to be happy moving forward. We wish him nothing but the best.”

A potent scorer and noted perimeter shooter at the high school level, Ridder helped MoKan win the Nike Peach Jam during the summer of 2016 playing alongside talented players like Missouri’s Michael and Jontay Porter and Oklahoma’s Trae Young. With a desire to move closer to home, could Ridder potentially land at a spot where one of his talented former teammates is playing?

Ridder averaged 24.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists during his senior season of high school ball at Kickapoo as he was a first-team, All-State selection in Missouri.

Four-star 2018 forward Ian Steere decommits from Creighton

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Creighton took a big hit to its recruiting efforts late this week as Class of 2018 forward Ian Steere is decommitting from the Bluejays, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Steere’s decommitment was first reported by Julius Kim of Elevate Hoops.

The 6-foot-8 Steere is considered a four-star prospect by Rivals as he is coming off of a very solid spring and summer playing with Team Charlotte in the Under Armour Association. A plus athlete who isn’t afraid to bang on the interior, Steere showing an improving skill level throughout the spring and summer as he could see his recruiting soar after opening things up.

According to a report from Jon Nyatawa of the World-Herald, one of the reasons that Steere is opening up his recruitment is his desire to be closer to his native North Carolina. With so many top programs looking for quality help on the interior, it’ll be interesting to see which programs jump in and try to recruit Steere the second time around.

John Wall emotional in Kentucky Hall of Fame induction speech

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John Wall was inducted into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night as he delivered an emotional speech while talking to his mother.

The first inductee into the Hall of Fame to play for current Wildcat head coach John Calipari, Wall only spent the 2009-10 season in Lexington but he became the first national player of the year to play at Kentucky before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Thanking his mother, Calipari, his family, friends and Big Blue Nation, the Washington Wizards guard gave a very moving speech, including an emotional part directed to his mother at around 4:35.

Ohio State snags third 2018 commitment in a week with four-star guard Luther Muhammad

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Ohio State continued a strong week on the recruiting trail on Friday night by landing a commitment from Class of 2018 guard Luther Muhammad.

Regarded as a four-star prospect, the 6-foot-4 Muhammad is a tough and rugged perimeter defender who can attack the basket. Also showing some ability to play on the ball as a secondary handler, Muhammad is a very solid addition to Ohio State’s recruiting class since they need to overhaul their roster under new head coach Chris Holtmann.

Muhammad is the third player to commit to the Buckeyes in the Class of 2018 this week as he joins four-star forward Jaedon LeDee and three-star guard Duane Washington in the current Ohio State recruiting class. Since Washington is a three-point threat and Muhammad is more of an off-the-bounce specialist, the two guards are a good start for Ohio State in this class as they will likely try to find a true floor leader to play with them on the perimeter.