UCLA has deep, balanced team in Steve Alford's 3rd season
LOS ANGELES (AP) Steve Alford guided UCLA to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in his first two seasons despite losing players early to the NBA draft. Now the coach has a chance to show what he can do with the deepest, most-balanced roster he's had during his brief tenure in Westwood.
The Bruins lost starters Norman Powell and Kevon Looney, who combined to average 28 points and 13.9 rebounds. They return three starters and boast two freshmen guards who could play right away on a team that was picked by the media to finish fifth in the Pac-12.
''We've got some momentum, we just want to get that momentum going in the right way,'' said Alford, who is 50-23 in his two years, including 22-14 last season.
Expectations are always high at the school with a record 11 national championships and the Bruins will be under pressure to advance beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008, when they made the last of three consecutive Final Four appearances.
''Hopefully we can stay healthy and keep it moving forward,'' Alford said.
The Bruins open the season at home against Monmouth on Nov. 13 and play six of their first nine games in Westwood. Among their high-profile non-conference games are the Maui Invitational before Thanksgiving, Kentucky on Dec. 3, at Gonzaga on Dec. 12 and North Carolina on Dec. 19 in New York.
Here are some things to know about UCLA this season:
GUARD PLAY: Bryce Alford, the coach's son, has taken heat for being the team's starting point guard the last two years. He averaged 15.4 points - second-best on the team - on 39.6 percent shooting, nearly identical to his average from 3-point range. He will remain a key piece of the offense, but the team is better stocked at point guard so Alford shouldn't have to play over 36 minutes a game like he did last season. Freshman Aaron Holiday, whose older brothers Jrue (UCLA) and Justin (Washington) are in the NBA, possesses an attacking mentality and he could end up starting at the point. Prince Ali is another touted freshman guard who could see starting minutes. Isaac Hamilton averaged 10.6 points while becoming a regular starter last season.
PARKER & BOLDEN: It may take both Tony Parker, the team's lone senior, and newcomer Jonah Bolden to replace Looney, who averaged 11.6 points and a Pac-12 second-best 9.2 rebounds in his lone season before becoming a first-round NBA draft pick. Parker was a starter for the first time last season and he looks to culminate his college career as a force down low if he can stay out of foul trouble. ''The maturation process has to happen,'' Alford said. ''If it does happen, then it makes us a totally different team and a much better team.'' Bolden, a 6-foot-10 Australian, redshirted last year after being ruled ineligible. He practiced with the team until having knee surgery in May. He is an inch taller than Looney and could play both forward positions.
FAN SUPPORT: The Bruins averaged 7,711 fans at home last season in a building that seats 13,800. That was 1,538 less than their road average and 5,111 fewer than their average at neutral courts. Start times dictated by the Pac-12 Network don't help entice the program's older fan base. Four home games this season begin at 8 p.m. and five tip off at 6 p.m. in the thick of LA's rush-hour traffic. Despite the renovation of Pauley Pavilion four years ago, attendance is not where athletic director Dan Guerrero wants it.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Pauley Pavilion turns 50 this year and the Bruins will mark the occasion by hosting Kentucky on Dec. 3, the golden anniversary of their first regular-season game at the arena in 1965. They beat Ohio State 92-66 in the season opener, which was John Wooden's 18th as coach. Among the starters were senior Kenny Washington and sophomore Mike Warren, who would go on to a TV acting career and become the future father-in-law of actress Jessica Alba. The current Bruins will try to atone for last year's embarrassing 39-point loss to the Wildcats in Chicago.