Steve Alford

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.

NBC SportsWorld: Bryce Alford on life as a coach’s son

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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.

You can read the full story here.

UCLA hopes to have versatile forward back to full strength by mid-July

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Given their personnel losses from their Sweet 16 team, led by Norman Powell and Kevon Looney, UCLA is expecting 6-foot-9 forward Jonah Bolden to be a key player in 2015-16. Bolden, who was supposed to be a freshman last season, wasn’t cleared by the NCAA and wasn’t even allowed to practice with the team until late January.

That inactivity makes this offseason an important one for the Australian, but unfortunately for he and the Bruins he isn’t at full strength. Bolden underwent knee surgery in mid-May, which was expected to sideline him anywhere from six to eight weeks. In an interview with Jack Wang of the LA Daily News, head coach Steve Alford stated that he hopes to have Bolden back at full strength by mid-July.

Alford also discussed the impact Bolden could have on next year’s team, which returns starters Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Tony Parker and adds some talented recruits as well.

On former four-star recruit Jonah Bolden’s role after sitting out the 2014-15 season:

“He’s a big guard. Being able to play somebody that’s 6-9, 6-9 1/2, long wingspan — to be able to play him at a guard position will help. And then we can swing him a little bit, like we did with Kyle (Anderson). We can play him at the big guard, we can play him at the stretch four. Good rebounder, great passer, and he can score it. He can score it all the way out to the three-point line. You know, it’s his first year. Anytime you’re a freshman, you’re going to go through some growing pains. But hopefully, he’ll be back healthy by mid-July, to where he can get a good summer in.”

The Anderson comparison is an interesting one, especially when considering what the current San Antonio Spur did during his lone season playing for Alford. Anderson was one of the nation’s best players and arguably its most versatile in 2013-14, averaging 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.

Being used in a similar role, can Bolden have that kind of impact in 2015-16? Part of that will depend upon how his rehab goes this summer, because if Bolden has the ability to transition from rehab to skill work before the fall that would undoubtedly be a positive for UCLA.

And if UCLA can have another playmaking option alongside the likes of Alford, Hamilton and freshmen Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali, that will help them in a Pac-12 that will be more balanced at the top.

Four-star center becomes UCLA’s third 2016 commitment

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Having already received verbal commitments from guards Lonzo Ball and Kobe Paras, UCLA is off to a good start when it comes to its 2016 recruiting class. Late Thursday night Steve Alford and his staff landed a third commitment in the class, as 6-foot-10 center Ike Anigbogu has decided to become a Bruin.

News of Anigbogu’s commitment was announced by his coach with the Compton Magic grassroots program.

Anigbogu’s made strides in his game throughout his junior season at Centennial HS in Corona, California, and he’s regarded as one of the top prospects in California. Anigbogu has been most often praised for his abilities as a rebounder and defender, and in adidas Gauntlet play he’s averaging 5.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.

Anigbogu, who also held offers from programs such as Arizona, Vanderbilt, SMU and Arizona State, received offers from UCLA, Arizona and Vanderbilt earlier this month. With Tony Parker having one season of eligibility remaining, Anigbogu’s commitment helps UCLA account for that eventual personnel loss.

UCLA’s other front court players will all have eligibility remaining in 2016, with Tyler JC transfer Ikenna Okwarabzie, Gyorgy Goloman, Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden all being sophomores. Bolden, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and wasn’t allowed to practice with the team until late January, can petition the NCAA for a fourth season of eligibility.

6-foot-11 Tyler JC center commits to UCLA

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Having lost Kevon Looney to the NBA Draft, UCLA entered the offseason in a position where it could use another front court body to improve its depth. Sunday afternoon the program landed a commitment from a player with the size needed to help the Bruins in this regard, as 6-foot-11 center Ikenna Okwarabzie announced that he will attend UCLA next year.

Okwarabzie, who played at Tyler JC in Texas this past season, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining and he joins a front court that will be led by Tony Parker and Jonah Bolden next season. Okwarabzie averaged 6.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game at Tyler, and UCLA will need his help on the glass and defensively with their leading rebounder (Looney- 9.2 rpg) moving on.

Both Gyorgy Goloman and Thomas Welsh played more minutes than many expected in the early going due to Bolden not being cleared by the NCAA, but that benefitted the players and UCLA as the season wore on. Goloman and Welsh made strides, which allowed them to factor into a front court rotation that ultimately helped the Bruins reach the Sweet 16.

Parker is UCLA’s most productive returnee, as he averaged 11.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season and will be the team’s leading returning rebounder. And having Bolden on board gives UCLA a skilled forward who was expected to have a major impact before the NCAA threw a wrench into those plans.

Okwarabzie is the fourth newcomer joining the UCLA program this summer, with guards Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali and 6-foot-10 forward Alex Olesinski being the others.

Despite a controversial bid, No. 11 UCLA advances to the Sweet 16 for second straight year

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On Selection Sunday, when UCLA was announced as the No. 11 seed in the South Region, there was outrage and confusion. A week later, the tournament party crashers will still be dancing along with 15 other teams, as the Bruins knocked off No. 14 UAB, 92-75, to advance to the Sweet 16.

UCLA was too much inside for the Blazers, who upset darkhorse Final Four pick Iowa State, on Thursday afternoon. The Bruins were plus-15 on the glass with Tony Parker leading the way with 28 points and 12 boards.

As a team, UCLA shot 60 percent from the field with 50 points coming in the paint.

Steve Alford made his first Sweet 16 at Southwest Missouri State in 1999. After failing to reach the Sweet 16 during stops at Iowa and New Mexico, Alford is back in the regional semifinals for the second year in a row.

But how impressive has this two-year stretch been?

In 2014, UCLA knocked off No. 13 Tulsa only to get No. 12 Stephen F. Austin — not No. 5 VCU — in the following round. UCLA was then eliminated by top-ranked Florida in the next round.

Some will point to this year’s Sweet 16 run as validation that the Bruins should have been included in the field. Yes, UCLA lost a host of talent players, but four wins over Washington, Washington State and USC (twice) doesn’t quantify “gaining steam” and a “good strength of schedule” should include a non-conference win better than Long Beach State.

UCLA’s Sweet 16 run has been aided by a controversial goaltending call to get past SMU in the Round of 64, and drawing another double-digit seed in the Round of 32.

SMU, a team that never got star recruit Emmanuel Mudiay and lost two more players during the course of this season, is UCLA’s best tournament win in the last two years by far.

Regardless, it still goes down as another Sweet 16 appearance, and the Bruins will be still be playing next week. They’ll get the winner of No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 7 Iowa. Let’s see if UCLA has enough steam for a national title contender or Alford’s former team.