LOS ANGELES (AP) Bryce Alford scored a season-high 27 points for No. 22 UCLA as the short-handed Bruins posted their fifth consecutive victory, holding off Louisiana-Lafayette 89-80 Tuesday night.
UCLA (8-3) played minus starting center Thomas Welsh, out with a stomach virus, and reserve Prince Ali, who bruised his left knee against Gonzaga on Saturday night.
Tony Parker and Isaac Hamilton each added 19 points for the Bruins.
Shawn Long contributed 26 points and 16 rebounds for Louisiana-Lafayette (3-5), which fell to 0-5 on the road this season.
For Long, it was his fifth double-double of the season. The 6-foot-11 senior is the NCAA Division I active leader in double-doubles (57) and total rebounds (1,117).
Kasey Shepherd scored 15 points and Jay Wright added 14 for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
The Bruins shot a season-best 55.4 percent from the field. Their previous best was 52.8 percent in their upset victory over then-No. 1 Kentucky two weeks ago.
UCLA, which led by as many as 19 in the first half, saw Louisiana-Lafayette pull within 63-59 with 10:13 to play.
The Bruins responded with an 11-2 spurt to lead 74-61, only to see the Ragin’ Cajuns close to 79-73 on Long’s 3-pointer with 2:17 to play.
UCLA made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute for the victory.
The second half was refereed by two officials, David Hall and Marques Pettigrew, after referee Eric Curry left at halftime with an undisclosed injury.
Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns, coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, entered the game ranked third among NCAA Division I programs in scoring, averaging 90.0 points per game, having already eclipsed the century mark twice this season.
UCLA: With Welsh out, coach Steve Alford was forced to change his starting lineup for the first time this season. He replaced Welsh with 6-10 sophomore Jonah Bolden. … The Bruins cracked the AP Top 25 poll for the first time this season, boosted by two victories in nine days over ranked opponents, Kentucky 87-77 on Dec. 3 and No. 20 Gonzaga 71-66 on Saturday night.
Louisiana-Lafayette: At Pepperdine on Friday.
UCLA: Vs. North Carolina on Saturday in New York.
Addition of freshman guards could help Bryce Alford’s scoring
Bryce Alford was second on UCLA in scoring at 15.4 points per game.
He’ll return in an even bigger role this season with Norman Powell having graduated. However, he should benefit from the addition of two heralded guards joining the program.
Prince Ali and Aaron Holiday, two four-star guards, were the prize recruits in in Steve Alford’s Class of 2015. On Monday, the UCLA coach spoke to reporters, and according to Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times, Alford praised the two first-year guards, saying they were both, “way ahead of it physically, more physically ready to play college basketball than most guards are.”
Last season, the Bruins back court was overworked with Alford, Powell and Isaac Hamilton all logging between 34 and 36 minutes a night. The lack of guards meant Alford had the ball in his hands the majority of the time. That should change with Ali and Holiday, the younger brother of former UCLA point guard Jrue Holiday.
Bryce Alford is most productive in catch-and-shoot opportunities, but he rarely operated without the ball last season. With Holiday as an additional point-guard option, Alford should be free to try to score more.
“That’s what we’re hoping,” Steve Alford said. “I think what we’ve seen in the summer has given us an awful lot of confidence that that can happen.”
The UCLA front court is also gaining some much-needed support. Jonah Bolden will make his collegiate debut after being he was not cleared by the NCAA last fall. The 6-foot-9 forward is coming off of knee surgery this past May. Bolden will join Tony Parker and sophomores Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman. The frontline also adds the other two members of the Class of 2015: Ikenna Okwarabizie and Alex Olesinski.
The UCLA front court will be mostly inexperienced, meaning the Bruins will once again rely on the guards. But this time around they’ll have depth in that department.
UCLA begins the season on Nov. 13 against Monmouth.
Back in June, I flew out to Los Angeles to attend the Nike Basketball Academy.
In my downtime, however, I made my way over to UCLA’s Westwood campus to spend some time with Bryce Alford, the star point guard for the Bruins and the son of the program’s head coach, Steve Alford.
That conversation turned into a wide-ranging story — published over on NBC SportsWorld — where we talked about the rivalries within the family, how Bryce ended up playing for his dad, the criticism he receives for playing “Daddy-Ball” and what it’s like being a coach’s son.
The Alford family was open and honest, and the way they view their status is interesting.
Kentucky’s buy-in: No team in the country has as much talent on their roster as Kentucky does, but the Wildcats may actually be too deep this season. They’re so deep, in fact, that John Calipari is considering using a platoon system — with five-man shifts — like he is coaching hockey. Eventually, someone’s minutes are going to get cut. Someone is going to have to accept the fact they’re a role player, nothing more than a screener or rebounder or defensive presence. If every Wildcat, from the Harrisons twins to Sam Malone, buys into this idea, Kentucky is going to be very, very tough to beat.
Gonzaga’s defense: Kevin Pangos, now that he’s healthy, is going to have a huge season. Kyle Wiltjer has had a year to develop his body and his game, making him the perfect stretch-four to create space in the paint for Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. Gary Bell, Byron Wesley, Eric McClellan, Josh Perkins, Kyle Draginis. There’s plenty of talent on the Zags, but the issue will be on defense. When Pangos, Wiltjer and Karnowski are on the floor together, Mark Few will have three defensive question marks. Gonzaga is a Final Four caliber team if they get enough stops.
D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: Aaron Craft is Ohio State’s biggest loss, but right up there, oddly enough, is the loss of LaQuinton Ross. The Buckeyes struggled to score last season, and Ross was their most consistent offensive weapon. Russell heads to Columbus with the reputation of being a big time scorer, and while the Buckeyes should, once again, be stout defensively, they’ll need Russell’s pop on the offensive end.
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: How long have we been asking questions about the Kansas point guard play? That won’t change this season, as Graham, a freshman, and sophomores Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp will try to take the reins. Graham is the most talented of the three, however, and is expected to take over the role.
Dwayne Polee, San Diego State: Someone is going to have to replace the offensive production that San Diego State loses with the graduation of Xavier Thames. Polee is not the most talented offensive player on the roster, but he showed quite a bit of promise at the end of last season. SDSU reaches a new level if he becomes a threat as a scorer.
Mark Donnal, Michigan: Michigan’s perimeter is loaded this season, but with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all departing, Donnal, a redshirt freshman, is now the veteran presence in the paint for John Beilein. Should I mention that he’s also known as being a shooter, and that he redshirted strictly to add strength?
Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford had promising moments as a freshman with the Bruins, but there were also times where he looked best-suited to being an offensive sparkplug off the bench. This year, the sophomore son of head coach Steve Alford will be handed the reins.
UConn’s big men: UConn has a number of x-factors this season — Can Ryan Boatright be Shabazz or Kemba? How good will Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton be? Is this Omar Calhoun’s bounceback year? But more than anything, UConn’s front line is where the questions lie. Amida Brimah is a terrific shotblocker with the strength of a stalk of bamboo, and Philip Nolan added 25 pounds of muscle but was ‘just a guy’ last season. Losing Deandre Daniels’ inside-outside ability will hurt quite a bit, and while UConn’s guard situation will work itself out, the Huskies need big minutes out of their big men to win the American this year.
Kansas State’s transfers: Marcus Foster has a shot to be a first-team all-american this season, but there are still some questions with his supporting cast. Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas are all expected to take a step forward, and Malek Harris is a four-star addition, but it is a trio of transfers that could make the difference. Justin Edwards could end up being a double-figure scorer on the wing, while Stephen Hurt and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Bolden give Bruce Weber some much-needed height in the paint.
Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State: There’s no questioning Dejean-Jones’ ability to score. He can fill it up when he gets on a roll. His problem is shot selection, and while Iowa State likes to get up and down the floor, Dejean-Jones is going to be the second or third option offensively for the Cyclones. Can he accept that role?
Here are 10 more x-factors
Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse: For the third straight season, Syracuse will have just one point guard on their roster, and a freshman to boot. If he Tyler Ennis 2.0?
Chris Walker, Florida: A supreme talent at 6-foot-10, for sure, but does he have a clue about how to play basketball?
Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, Duke: Cook is the senior starter. Tyus Jones is the hot-shot freshman. Both are talented point guards. Can they play together? What if one has their minutes cut?
Kedren Johnson, Memphis: Johnson, who averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards at Vanderbilt in 2012-2013, is the only guard for Memphis that has ever played Division I basketball.
Wayne Blackshear and Shaqquan Aaron, Louisville: Montrezl Harrell is an all-american, and Terry Rozier might join him this season. Can Blackshear and/or Aaron provide production from the wing?
Yannick Moreira and Keith Frazier, SMU: With no Emmanuel Mudiay, Larry Brown needs these two to improve. Moreira looked great at the FIBA World Cup, while Frazier was a McDonald’s all-american but couldn’t earn a starting spot as a freshman.
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn was the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2012, but he’s yet to be healthy at Providence.
Cullen Neal, New Mexico: Neal was impressive at times as a freshman despite playing on a team with three pros while still recovering from an emergency appendectomy.
Robert Hubbs, Tennessee: The most talented player on a depleted Tennessee roster struggled with injuries as a freshman.
Texas using a 2-3 zone: How effective can Texas be defensively when they have Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley on the floor together?
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2014-2015 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day. We continue our Top 25 countdown with the No. 24 UCLA Bruins.
Newcomers: Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney, Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman
– G: Bryce Alford, So.
– G: Norman Powell, Sr.
– G: Isaac Hamilton, So.
– F: Kevon Looney, Fr.
– C: Tony Parker, Jr.
– Bench: Wanaah Bail, So.; Thomas Welsh, Fr.; Noah Allen, So.; Gyorgy Goloman, Fr.
They’ll be good because …: There certainly isn’t a shortage of talent on UCLA’s roster. It starts with senior guard Norman Powell, one of just two upperclassmen in Steve Alford’s rotation this season. Powell has spent the past two seasons stuck behind NBA wings on the UCLA depth chart: Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, even Kyle Anderson. This will be his season to lead, and while he may not be as good as some of those guys that played in front of him, he doesn’t necessarily need to be.
Isaac Hamilton, a wing, was a top 15 recruit in the Class of 2013 before being forced to sit out last season after UTEP refused to release him from his letter of intent. Kevon Looney is a five-star recruit in the Class of 2014 and should join junior Tony Parker in anchoring UCLA’s big, deep front line. They’ll be joined up front by four-star big man Thomas Welsh as well as sophomore Wanaah Bail, who should finally be healthy this season, although their front line’s versatility took a hit when Jonah Bolden was ruled a partial qualifier that will have to sit out this season.
UCLA lost three first round draft picks with a combined seven seasons of eligibility remaining, yet they may end up having just as much talent on their roster this season. That’s how it should be in Westwood.
But they might disappoint because …: While the Bruins have quite a bit of talent on their roster, there is an awful lot of youth and inexperience on there as well. Powell and Parker, a junior, are the only two upperclassmen that will see significant minutes. Four sophomores will likely end up in the rotation as well, but just one of them — point guard Bryce Alford, Steve’s son — played major minutes a season ago. Hamilton sat out, Bail was injured and wing Noah Allen played in just 11 games. Alford, the coach, is going to have his work cut out for him this season.
The other question mark is Alford, the point guard. He had a promising freshman campaign, averaging 8.0 points and 2.8 assists, but he was more of a sparkplug off the bench than he was a guy counted on to run a team and facilitate an offense full time. He was supposed to battle Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus for the starting role, but Octeus was denied admission into UCLA, meaning that Alford will be sharing ball-handling duties with … off-guard Hamilton? How the sophomore handles the role will be a major determinant in how good the Bruins end up being.
Outlook: Arizona is the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season. There really isn’t even much of an argument to be had there, but what will be interesting to see is how the rest of the conference plays out as there are four or five teams that can lay claim to the title “second best in the Pac-12”. UCLA is one of those teams.
If everything breaks right — Powell becomes an all-league player, Looney and Hamilton live up to their five-star rankings, Alford makes a seamless transition to full-time point guard — than the Bruins are probably closer to being a top 15 team than they are the No. 24 team in the country. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the year, which is why I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Bruins ended up being an NIT team this season.
Like I said earlier, Steve Alford is going to have a lot of work to do this season.
In his first season at UCLA, point guard Bryce Alford put together a solid freshman campaign on a team that reached the Sweet 16. One of the first reserves off the bench, Alford played just over 23 minutes per game and posted averages of 8.0 points and 2.8 assists per contest.
However with four starters and fellow reserve Zach LaVine all having moved on, Alford will be asked to do even more in 2014-15. With those personnel losses in mind the time that he and his teammates (which includes a very good recruiting haul led by forward Kevon Looney) spend in the gym this summer will be important, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all “business” in the gym. Alford attempted a couple trick shots at Pauley Pavilion, with the footage posted on YouTube by the UCLA athletic department.
The first shot is one that just about any person who’s picked up a basketball has attempted (and many have made). But the second shot Alford made in the video above? Impressive. And the lack of a boisterous reaction to the second shot, a length of the court shot that was kicked in, is pretty cool too.