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Brilliant Ball leads No. 11 UCLA past Washington 107-66

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SEATTLE — Lonzo Ball’s demeanor stayed the same, even as the buzz built around his showdown with another standout freshman in Washington’s Markelle Fultz.

It became a one-sided matchup thanks to all the other options UCLA has along with its freshman star.

Ball had 22 points while dazzling in his matchup against Fultz, Bryce Alford added 21 points and No. 11 UCLA routed Washington 107-66 on Saturday night.

The expected faceoff between Ball and Fultz — two of the best freshmen in the country and expected to be among the top picks in the NBA draft — never materialized in the way the sellout crowd hoped. While each had flashes of brilliance, Ball clearly had the better performance.

Ball finished with six rebounds, five assists and hit 7 of 12 shots, an impressive outing with 21 NBA scouts in attendance. The difference for UCLA (21-3, 8-3 Pac-12) was the other pieces around Ball. T.J. Leaf and Aaron Holiday both finished with 20 points.

“It doesn’t matter what hype he has as far as matchups and this kind of stuff. If you were with us the last two days, it was the same Lonzo each and every day. Lonzo just does what Lonzo does,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said.

Fultz led Washington (9-14, 2-9) with 25 points but got little help. He was 9 for 19 from the field and committed five turnovers.

“I don’t feel that was our basketball team tonight. I didn’t recognize our team tonight,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

The outcome was decided by UCLA’s dominant first half that led to a 52-34 advantage at the break and could have been even larger if not for a rash of sloppy turnovers.

Ball was good in those first 20 minutes. He was great for the opening moments of the second half. On three straight possessions, he knocked down 3-pointers each a few steps further behind the line than the previous. The last one came from about 25 feet and pushed UCLA’s lead to 69-43 with 16 minutes remaining.

Ball had 12 points in the first four minutes of the second half, and it was just the start of the rout. UCLA led by 44 in the closing minutes.

“We came in here focused and did what we were supposed to do,” Ball said.

While the second half became a blowout, it was UCLA’s first-half offense that exploited every deficiency for Washington at the defensive end. When the Huskies played zone, the Bruins exploited the middle and found open shots for Leaf. When the Huskies switched to man, Ball shook free off the dribble and found his teammates for easy baskets. Two of Ball’s three assists in the first half were slick lobs leading to dunks for Leaf and Ike Anigbogu.

Alford was most pleased with UCLA’s defense. The 66 points by Washington was the fewest allowed by the Bruins in the previous eight games.

“The big difference was our defense. It was by far our best. … I thought we were active, we got a lot of deflections and that led to open court play which our guy are really good in,” Alford said.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Look for UCLA to take advantage of the chaos in the rest of the AP Top 25, especially the top 10. The Bruins are likely to get a nice bump after sweeping the Washington schools on the road for the first time since 2004.

UGLY NUMBERS

It was the worst loss for Washington in Romar’s 15 seasons as the head coach. The previous worst was a pair of 32-point loses, one in Romar’s first season and one last year. It was the second time Washington allowed 100 points in a conference game under Romar. Arizona beat Washington 106-97 in January 2009.

BIG PICTURE

UCLA: The Bruins earned their 21st win earlier than any other time in school history. The previous earliest date came in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons when UCLA’s 21st win came on Feb. 7 both seasons.

Washington: While the result on the court was ugly, there was at least fan interest. Washington had its first sellout crowd since Feb. 18, 2012, vs. Arizona.

UP NEXT

UCLA: The Bruins return home to face Oregon on Thursday night.

Washington: The Huskies travel to Colorado on Thursday night.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

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For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.