UCLA re­turns to power sta­tus

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Mar­shall

los an­ge­les» Coach Steve Al­ford’s best re­cruit­ing class was ex­pected to get the UCLA men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram back on track af­ter the Bru­ins suf­fered only their fourth los­ing sea­son since 1948. But few ex­pected the Bru­ins would be this good this quickly.

Led by stand­out fresh­men Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf, UCLA is No. 2 in The As­so­ci­ated Press top 25 and one of the na­tion’s six un­de­feated teams as the Bru­ins head into the Pac-12 sea­son.

Al­ford has gone from hav­ing UCLA fans call­ing for his job to coach­ing a team that could get to the Fi­nal Four.

“I have a re­ally good group of guys to coach, and they’re a pretty good bas­ket­ball team right now,” Al­ford said. “We’re try­ing to be­come a great bas­ket­ball team, and that’s a process. That’s a jour­ney.”

UCLA (13-0) caught na­tional at­ten­tion with a road win over then-No. 1-ranked Ken­tucky on Dec. 3. The Bru­ins also have wins over Texas A&M, Michi­gan and Ohio State, and their vic­tory over West­ern Michi­gan last week com­pleted their first un­de­feated non­con­fer­ence sched­ule in 22 years.

The Pac-12 has three other ranked teams, in­clud­ing un­de­feated No. 23 USC, and every team but one has a win­ning record.

The Pac-12 race should be fun to watch. Here are a few things to look for:

• USC had mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter following a five-win sea­son with an NCAA Tour­na­ment berth last sea­son. Coach Andy Enfield’s high-fly­ing crew has blown those away. The Tro­jans (11-0), picked seventh in the Pac-12 pre­sea­son poll, have their first 11-game win­ning streak since open­ing the 1970-71 sea­son 16-0, when they fin­ished 24-2.

• Ore­gon opened the sea­son with two losses in its first four games, prompt­ing this ques­tion: What’s wrong with the Ducks? Noth­ing, re­ally. Ore­gon typ­i­cally starts slowly un­der coach Dana Alt­man. Since los­ing to Ge­orge­town in the open­ing round of the Maui In­vi­ta­tional, the Ducks have won nine straight and are No. 20 in AP’s top 25.

• Ari­zona took a hit when Ter­rance Fer­gu­son, the mar­quee name in Sean Miller’s lat­est re­cruit­ing class, opted to play over­seas in­stead of in Tuc­son. De­spite be­ing down to only seven schol­ar­ship play­ers, the 18th-ranked Wild­cats (11-2) have con­tin­ued to find ways to win be­hind fresh­men Lauri Markka­nen, Kobi Sim­mons and Rawle Alkins.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.