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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?”

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.