UCLA returns to power status
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.