Isaac Hamilton

Isaac Hamilton, Jay Hedgeman
Associated Press

Alford scores 27, No. 22 UCLA tops Louisiana-Lafayette 89-80

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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.

TIP-INS

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.

NEXT UP

Louisiana-Lafayette: At Pepperdine on Friday.

UCLA: Vs. North Carolina on Saturday in New York.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 24 UCLA Bruins

Steve Alford
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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.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

source: Getty Images
Steve Alford, Getty Images

Last Season: 28-9, 12-6 Pac-12 (t-2nd), lost in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Steve Alford

Key Losses: Kyle Anderson (14.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.5 apg), Jordan Adams (17.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 apg), Zach LaVine (9.4 ppg)

Newcomers: Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney, Thomas Welsh, Gyorgy Goloman

Projected Lineup

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.

source: Getty Images
Norman Powell, Getty Images

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.

UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton’s final appeal denied, will sit out this season

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In news that didn’t come as much of a surprise, UCLA freshman guard Isaac Hamilton’s final appeal to have the National Letter of Intent he signed after committing to UTEP nullified was denied on Thursday. With that being the case Hamilton, a McDonald’s All-American from Los Angeles, will sit out this season and lose a year of eligibility per the rules of the NLI.

Hamilton will be able to receive an athletic scholarship and practice with the team, so head coach Steve Alford and his staff will be able to groom the prolific shooting guard with an eye towards next season. And having a player as talented as Hamilton should help the Bruins’ perimeter rotation, which includes Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine and Norman Powell, in practice every day.

While Hamilton was most valued as a scorer during his high school career (23.0 ppg at St. John Bosco last season), there was some thinking that if eligible he could throw his name into the mix at the point guard position along with fellow freshmen LaVine and Bryce Alford, and sophomore Kyle Anderson.

Those three players combined to dish out 11 assists (Anderson with five, Alford and LaVine with three apiece) against eight turnovers (Alford – 4, Anderson – 3, LaVine – 1) in the Bruins’ 96-66 exhibition victory over Cal State San Bernadino on Wednesday night. Both LaVine (15 points) and Anderson (ten points) reached double figures, and while the Bruins do have one more exhibition game to play prior to their season opener against Drexel next Friday it seems likely that multiple players will have the opportunity to initiate the offense for Alford’s squad.