UCLA Bruins

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

LeBron James tells LaVar Ball to “keep my family out of your mouth”

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After speaking his mind loudly for months, LaVar Ball has finally struck a nerve with one of basketball’s biggest names.

LeBron James.

The Cleveland Cavaliers star responded Tuesday to Ball’s claims that his children – UCLA star Lonzo and high schoolers LiAngelo and LaMelo – have brighter futures than James’ 12- and 9-year-old sons in basketball.

“Keep my kids’ name out of your mouth, keep my family out of your mouth,” James told ESPN. “This is dad to dad. It’s a problem now.”

LaVar Ball may have only been a part of the national basketball consciousness for a couple of months, but he’s made no shortage of outrageous remarks. He said he would have beaten Michael Jordan while in his prime as a player. That he wants a $1 billion apparel deal for his sons. He said that Lonzo is already better than two-time defending MVP Steph Curry.

His commentary of James’ children, though, elicited the strongest response to him yet.

“You got LeBron, it’s going to be hard for his kids because they are going to look at them like, ‘You got to be just like your dad,’” Ball said on the “In The Zone Podcast with Chris Broussard. “And after a while, that pressure starts sitting on you like, ‘Why do I got to be just like him? What can’t I just be me?’ And then they are going to be like, ‘Aw, you’re soft, you’re not that good.’ Because the expectation is very, very high.”

James’ eldest son, LeBron James, Jr., has already garnered quite a bit of attention for his play, with his grassroots mixtapes getting millions of views.

Lonzo Ball’s UCLA team is set to play Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament this week after Ball turned in an All-American freshman season that figures to end with an early selection in June’s NBA draft.

“I actually like his son,” James said. “I like his game.”

Lonzo’s game is something James respects, which obviously isn’t the case regarding his father’s comments.

“He can talk all about his brand, talk about his sons, talk about basketball, talk about me,” James said. “But keep my family out of this.”

UCLA has been dealing with the distraction of LaVar Ball’s comments all season, so it’s likely the Bruins will be able to shrug them off once more this week, but given the media crush that their game against Kentucky was going to engender anyway, having the likes of LeBron James enter the fray only acts as a multiplier to the questions that will be asked. Which isn’t even to mention the rampant speculation regarding coach Steve Alford potentially returning to coach his alma mater, Indiana.

It’s going to be an absolute circus around UCLA this week.

Then they’ve got to go play Kentucky.

LaVar Ball now has Markelle Fultz in his sights

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Markelle Fultz has now been drawn into the orbit of LaVar Ball.

The brash and bold father of UCLA star freshman Lonzo Ball advocated for his son to be the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft over Fultz, a Washington freshman whom many have tabbed as the top pick.

“If you got a kid that makes everybody better, you mean to tell me you wouldn’t take him over a guy that’s averaging 40 points but the team’s losing?” Ball told TMZ. “If you wanna winner, you pick my boy.”

“Look what he did to UCLA. They 15-17 last year. You bring one dude and change the culture that’s what you want, it’s not Lonzo’s passing and shooting that’s his great gift, it’s the winning.”

Fultz 23 points, five rebounds and five assists this season for the Huskies, who had a 9-22 season that resulted in the firing of coach Lorenzo Romar. UCLA is a three seed with a matchup Sunday against Cincinnati for a Sweet 16 berth. Lonzo Ball is averaging 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game.

LaVar Ball has made it a habit to make headlines with talk about a $1 billion apparel deal for Lonzo and his two younger brothers, that he could have beaten Michael Jordan in his prime and a host of other bold statements.

LaVar Ball walks back statement on Lonzo’s Laker future

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The only person better at generating headlines than Lonzo Ball seems to be his father, LaVar. The elder Ball managed to do so again this weekend, once for saying something wild and then again for walking those comments back.

LaVar told KCUB Sports Radio 1290 in Arizona that UCLA star Lonzo would play for the Lakers and that he would discourage other teams from taking the stellar point guard at the top of the draft. Later, he said he was only posturing.

“I’m not trying to say he won’t play for a different team,” LaVar told ESPN. “But I’d like him to play for the Lakers because it’s home, and I’d love him to learn from Magic [Johnson]. He’s the best guard ever to me, and nobody better for Lonzo to learn from than Magic Johnson.”

Lonzo is averaging 14.8, 7.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Bruins, who stand at 26-3 on the season. He’s in the mix to be the potential No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft.

LaVar has already stated on multiple occasions that Lonzo is better than two-time MVP Steph Curry of Golden State. He’s clearly supremely confident – and outspoken – about his son’s talent. With two younger sons, LaMelo and LiAngelo, set to soon begin their own college careers, LaVar’s exuberant proclamations may just be getting started.

Four Takeaways: Tenth-ranked UCLA knocks off No. 5 Oregon

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UCLA finally defended.

The 10th-ranked Bruins stymied No. 5 Oregon down the stretch to defeat the Ducks, 82-79, in a game in which they trailed by as many as 19 points.

Lonzo Ball was brilliant in the final minutes of the game, finishing with 15 points and 11 rebounds while defending Oregon’s Dillon Brooks on the other end.

The Ducks, who shot 48.7 percent in the first half, made just 33.3 percent of their shots in the second half and were just two of their last 13 as UCLA completed the comeback.

UCLA’s win is a bit of revenge after its undefeated start to the season came to an end in Eugene in late December on a Brooks game-winning 3.

Brooks and Tyler Dorsey both had 19 points for the Ducks, whose loss leaves Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings.

Here’s what you need to know from Westwood on Thursday night:

 

1. UCLA…defended?: Overall, Oregon scored 1.162 points per possession, which isn’t going to make it seem like the Bruins did a whole heck of a lot to slow the Ducks. But make no mistake, the Bruins absolutely buckled down and took Oregon absolutely out of what it wanted to accomplish down the stretch.

The Ducks made just two of their last 13 shots, had only 10 second-half field goals and had just 10 points in the last 8 minutes.

UCLA kept Oregon from getting into its offense early, which totally derailed the Ducks after a scintillating start to the game. Oregon just didn’t have an answer for UCLA was doing defensively.

What a world.

Now, the question for the Bruins is was it a fluke, matchup specific or something they can build on going forward? Their offense, as everyone knows, is as dynamic and electric as any in the country, and maybe one of the best in recent years. The defense, though, well, it’s been bad, bad, bad.

If this is an indication of moving toward average, that’s a game-changer. It doesn’t make them any more dangerous than they already are – their shooting makes them frightening to any opponent – but it does make them more formidable.

 

2. Lonzo Ball is that dude: The freshman was pretty pedestrian, at least by his standards, through the early going, putting up just four shots en route to five first-half points as UCLA fell behind by 19 points in the first half.

In the final 10 minutes of the game, though, Ball was beautiful. He made four of five shots – including a 30-footer with 32 seconds left – that help buoy the Bruins offense down the stretch and keeping Oregon at bay. He also had seven second-half rebounds. From the point guard position.

On the other end of the floor, Ball was instrumental in UCLA’s sudden defensive stoutness. He switched over to man-up on Dillon Brooks and kept the Ducks star in check late.

UCLA has a ton of weapons all over the floor, but Ball is what makes the whole thing go. When he fades into the background, the Bruins struggle to make it to their highest gear. When he’s at the center of the action, look out, defenses.

 

3. Oregon’s play was perplexing but not problematic: When the Ducks lost at Colorado last month, it raised some eyebrows. The Buffs aren’t exactly the most intimidating or accomplished group, yet somehow had Oregon, which was then riding a 17-game winning streak, down double-digits late. When Oregon found itself in a slog, albeit a win, against Arizona State, there was some questions about what was going on in Eugene.

Of course, the Ducks silenced any doubters by absolutely roasting Arizona, and this latest loss shouldn’t arouse any worries, either.

Sure, blowing a 19-point lead isn’t great, but a 19-point lead against UCLA isn’t like a 19-point lead against most teams given UCLA’s ability to fill it up.

The Ducks are – and will be – fine.

That’s not to say those last 10 minutes don’t raise some concerns.

UCLA absolutely defended its guts out and deserve praise, but Oregon looked totally perplexed and stymied. The Ducks are too good, too experienced and too versatile to not have an answer for that long.

4. Ducks interior D withers: On the other side of the floor is another, likely impermanent, concern for Oregon.

The Ducks are typically one of the stoutest interior defenses in the country, allowing opponents to shoot just 45 percent inside the arc while leading the country in block percentage.

In the second half, UCLA was able to do a ton of damage inside. The Bruins shot 56.5 percent on 2-pointers and had 20 of their 43 points in the paint. Meanwhile, Oregon had just one block for the whole game.

The Ducks have been too good for too long this season inside to think this is any sort of red flag going forward, but it does help explain how a 19-point lead went up in smoke.

VIDEO: LaVar Ball hypes son Lonzo with TMZ Sports

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Lonzo Ball is have a brilliant freshman year for UCLA. The Bruins point guard is averaging 14.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from 3-point range.

With that, along with UCLA’s top-10 ranking, Ball’s play speaks volumes.

So, too, does his father.

In an interview with TMX Sports, LaVar Ball heaped major praise on his oldest son.

“My boys want to be the best players ever,” LaVar said. “People don’t want to think that far in front. I’ve told them this since Day 1, since they’ve been babies, somebody’s got to be better than (Michael) Jordan? Why not you?”

The elder Ball also said once Lonzo moves on from UCLA, his game will fit in even better in the NBA.

“It’s going to get easier for Lonzo as we go,” he said. “When he gets to the pros, the game is even faster and that’s when he’s at his best.”