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Aaron Holiday’s value on full display as No. 23 UCLA beats Wisconsin

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With the trio of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton starting on the perimeter, UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday was forced into a supplementary role as a sophomore last season. With all three of those players gone and another highly-regarded freshman class on campus, Holiday is in a position of leadership for a UCLA program that saw its depth vanish due to the suspensions of three players who were caught shoplifting in China earlier this month.

Holiday’s been the leader the Bruins needed at this point in the season, with Tuesday’s 72-70 win over Wisconsin (2-3) in the third-place game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City being his best outing of the season to date. Holiday capped the game with a layup with eight tenths of a second remaining to give UCLA (4-1) the win, but it was his play throughout that afforded the Bruins the opportunity to avoid suffering a second defeat in as many nights.

Holiday was efficient throughout, scoring 18 points (14 in the second half) on 7-for-12 shooting from the field and dishing out five assists without committing a turnover. The junior led five Bruins in double figures, and on a night in which a few of his teammates struggled to take care of the basketball — Prince Ali and G.G. Goloman were responsible for 11 of the team’s 19 turnovers — Holiday’s work with the ball in his hands was critical.

UCLA trailed by as much as 12 late in the first half, with their 5-0 spurt to finish the stanza giving Steve Alford’s team a boost of sorts heading into the locker room. Holiday’s layup just before the buzzer was the final basket of that run, and he would make one three-pointer and assist on another as UCLA managed to regain the lead before the first media timeout of the second half.

A dogged defender on the perimeter, Holiday’s offensive skill set and poise were incredibly important for UCLA Tuesday night and will continue to be throughout the season. While there are some veterans on the roster in addition to Holiday, most notably Thomas Welsh, UCLA will have to rely on newcomers in key positions as well (Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, especially).

Having Aaron Holiday to call upon gives UCLA a safety net of sorts; he rarely gets out of control and puts in the work on both ends of the floor night in and night out. That was the case Tuesday night at a time when UCLA needed him most, and thanks to Aaron Holiday’s play down the stretch the Bruins found a way to escape Kansas City with a win.

Report: UCLA players accused of shoplifting at three stores, will stay in China when team flies home

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Things aren’t getting much easier for the three UCLA men’s basketball players arrested and accused of shoplifting in China earlier this week.

According to a report from ESPN’s Arash Markazi, citing a source close to the situation, UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill will likely have to stay behind in China for “a week or two” while the team flies home after Friday night’s season-opening win over Georgia Tech.

Ball, Riley and Hill were arrested on shoplifting charges on Tuesday as they were accused of allegedly stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel in Hangzhou. Both teams participating in the China game were staying in the same hotel earlier this week before moving to Shanghai, where the Pac-12 China Game was played. All three were released on bail early Wednesday morning as they’ve been forced to stay at the Hyatt Regency in Hangzhou with a UCLA representative while the legal process plays out.

Making matters potentially worse for the three arrested Bruins are new details that more stores could be involved in a potential shoplifting spree. According to Markazi’s report, there could be surveillance footage of the UCLA trio shoplifting from two more stores besides the Louis Vuitton store in the high-end shopping center that includes Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Salvatore Ferragamo stores.

If these new details prove to be true, then this looks even worse for the arrested trio as the one shoplifting incident wouldn’t be an isolated thing.

The UCLA players do have some key local support from Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, the presenting sponsor of the Pac-12 China Game. Alibaba’s executive vice chairman and co-founder Joe Tsai has been vocal in his support of eventually releasing the arrested UCLA trio as both teams toured the company’s facilities on Monday. Tsai recently reached an agreement in principle to purchase a 49 percent minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets, as he’s a big basketball fan who has been a large part of the Pac-12 having a game in China.

The Pac-12 and Alibaba also announced an extension for the Pac-12 China Game through 2020 with the company remaining the main sponsor. Next year’s Pac-12 China Game was also announced on Friday as Cal will face Yale.

Alford refused to comment to reporters about the arrests after UCLA’s win over Georgia Tech on Friday night.

 

Under The Radar Stars You Need To Know

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

The label “under the radar” can be a tricky one to affix on a player, especially with there being more access to games and statistics thanks in large part to the internet.

What makes an “under the radar” player?

Not being discussed on the national television shows every night that he’s on the court?

Or having one’s contributions overlooked because they may not produce eye-popping numbers in the usual statistical categories?

We’re going to take a shot at this here, naming some players who in our view are floating under the radar heading into the 2017-18 season.

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Jaylen Adams (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

PG Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure

One could argue that Adams’ backcourt sidekick Matt Mobley deserves to be on this list as well. But the pick here is Adams, as he’s coming off of a junior season in which he averaged 20.6 points, 6.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, Adams is entrusted in producing offense not only for himself but for his teammates as well, and more often than not he gets the job done for Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies. Adams is a key reason why the Bonnies are expected to contend in the Atlantic 10 and could earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2012.

PF Peyton Aldridge, Davidson

Much to the chagrin of some, Aldridge was not on our list of the top 100 players in college basketball. And with Jack Gibbs out of eligibility, Aldridge has the potential to be one of the most productive offensive players in America this season. As a junior Aldridge averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, producing an offensive rating of 118.5 as well. By March, leaving Aldridge off of the top 100 list could prove to be a major mistake.

PG Kyron Cartwright, Providence

Cartwright receives ample respect within the Big East, which is to be expected considering the fact that he was named the league’s Most Improved Player last season. As a junior Cartwright averaged 11.4 points, 6.7 assists (tops in the Big East) and 3.5 rebounds per game. Look for this to be the season in which Cartwright becomes a household name nationally, as he leads a program aiming not only for its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament berth but a Big East title as well.

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Kyron Cartwright (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

PF Mike Daum, South Dakota State

Daum’s name is one that should be heard more often in 2017-18, given how productive he was as a sophomore last season. The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 25.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, shooting 51.4 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three and 86.9 percent from the foul line. A 6-foot-9 forward who attempted just over five of his shots (15.2 FGA per game) per night from three was nearly a 50/40/90 shooter. That’s incredible, and Daum’s name is one that more college basketball fans need to know.

SF/PF Vince Edwards, Purdue

With his size, standing at 6-foot-8, and skill set Edwards allows Purdue head coach Matt Painter to go a variety of ways with his matchups. Given the perimeter options on this team, including Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson and freshman Nojel Eastern, Purdue can employ Edwards as a four to force mismatches at that position. Last season Edwards averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, shooting 48.6 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from three and 82.0 percent from the foul line. Efficient offensively and solid on the other end of the floor, Edwards could merit All-America discussion come March.

PG Rob Gray Jr., Houston

The American Athletic Conference is loaded with guards this season, and among the best in the conference is Rob Gray Jr. The 6-foot-1 redshirt senior averaged 20.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for the Cougars last season, earning first team all-conference honors as a result. Gray is certainly given the respect he deserves within the American, but has he received enough respect nationally? Look for that to change this season as he looks to lead the Cougars to their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010.

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Tyler Hall, Montana State Athletics
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SG Tyler Hall, Montana State

Speaking of players who threatened the 50/40/90 mark last season, Tyler Hall did so while averaging 23.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season. Shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three and 83.7 percent from the foul line, Hall produced an effective field goal percentage of 59.5 in 2016-17. The 6-foot-4 guard was a focal point of the Montana State offensive attack in each of his first two years with the program, and that’s unlikely to change in 2017-18.

SG Mustapha Heron, Auburn

With the statuses of Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley undetermined at this point due to the ongoing FBI investigation (and fears of what the NCAA could do down the line), Auburn will begin its season shorthanded. But in Heron the Tigers have a talented shooting guard in Heron who can put points on the board in a flash. As a freshman Heron averaged 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three. If there’s one area where Heron could stand to improve from last season it’s the turnover department, as he averaged 2.4 per night while dishing out just 1.3 assists per game.

PG Aaron Holiday, UCLA

After starting 32 games as a freshman Holiday moved into a reserve role last season to make room for Lonzo Ball, and he handled the adjustment well. Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists per game as a sophomore, with both numbers being improvements on his freshman year numbers (10.3, 4.0). With Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton all having moved on, more will be asked of Holiday alongside the likes of freshmen Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. And given his abilities on both ends of the floor, Holiday may very well emerge as one of the top guards in the country in the eyes of those who aren’t already rating him that high.

SG Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State

Two years after arriving in Starkville as part of a recruiting class headlined by Malik Newman (who is now at Kansas), it’s Weatherspoon who is entrusted with the task of leading the way for Ben Howland’s program. As a sophomore Weatherspoon averaged 16.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3 percent. The talent on the roster has improved, which could in turn help one of the top perimeter talents in the SEC become more of a household name nationally.

Others worth considering: Joshua Braun (Grand Canyon), Bryant Crawford (Wake Forest), Terence Davis (Ole Miss), Drew Eubanks (Oregon State), Tra Holder (Arizona State), Shake Milton (SMU), Khyri Thomas (Creighton).

UCLA lands 4-star SG Jules Bernard

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UCLA received its second verbal commitment in the Class of 2018 on Tuesday, as 6-foot-6 shooting guard Jules Bernard announced that he will be a Bruin. Bernard, considered to be a four-star prospect, joins another perimeter prospect in four-star guard David Singleton III in Steve Alford’s 2018 class to date.

Bernard, who averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds per game at the Winward School in Los Angeles, was also a standout for the Compton Magic grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit.

“This has been a humbling and amazing journey over the last few years,” Bernard said in the release. “I’ve been fortunate to have met some special people who have taught me, mentored me, molded me, and guided me. I would like to thank all the college coaches and schools that believed in me, recruited me, and those who put time and effort into getting to know me and my family. I am excited and honored to continue my education and growth as a basketball player in my hometown at UCLA.”

Bernard’s size and versatility makes him a good addition to the UCLA program, which does not lack for young talent on the perimeter. This year’s team has four freshmen among its perimeter players, including point guard Jaylen Hands, shooting guard LiAngelo Ball and wings Kris Wilkes and Chris Smith.

UCLA also has three returnees on the perimeter from last season’s Sweet 16 team, junior Aaron Holiday and redshirt sophomores Prince Al and Alex Oleshinski. Ali, who averaged 3.9 points in just under 12 minutes per game as a freshman, sat out last season after undergoing offseason knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

PHOTOS: Kanye West and 2 Chainz practice with UCLA

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UCLA received a nice surprise on Monday as rappers Kanye West and 2 Chainz showed up and played at practice.

Both multi-platinum recording artists have made numerous references to basketball over the years, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to see both West and 2 Chainz want to play with one of the premier college programs in the country. 2 Chainz even played Division I ball at Alabama State during his freshman year during the 1996-97 season before eventually graduating from Virginia State.

The Bruins seemed pretty excited to have the two superstars spend some time with them, and former UCLA guard Bryce Alford also got a funny shot in at his dad, head coach Steve Alford, for his picture with Kanye.

UCLA freshman big man Ike Anigbogu stays in 2017 NBA Draft after signing with agent

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UCLA freshman big man Ike Anigbogu will stay in the 2017 NBA Draft after signing with agent Jason Glushon.

The 6-foot-10 big man only averaged 13.0 minutes per game in his only season in Westwood but he showed an ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor as he averaged 4.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season.

Anigbogu joins point guard Lonzo Ball and forward T.J. Leaf as a trio of one-and-done freshmen for the Bruins after the team made the Sweet 16 last season.

Anigbogu has a chance to develop into a solid NBA big man because he gets quickly off the floor and can protect the rim and rebound at a high level. If Anigbogu can improve his offensive game and get a go-to move, he could become a solid pro big man.