UCLA men’s basketball is all too familiar with late-game heroics.
Last year, it was former point guard Larry Drew II drilling the buzzer beater against Washington. And Bruin fans won’t soon forget UCLA’s 11 straight points to knock off Gonzaga in the 2006 NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
But on Saturday, the Bruins found themselves in unfamiliar late-game territory.
In the final inning of play in UCLA’s players versus coaches softball game, the Bruin players held a tenuous one-run lead over their coaches after sophomore guard Jordan Adams escaped a pickle to score the go-ahead run. With the bases loaded and just one out, the players forced a fly out and escaped with a 20-19 win.
“Unfortunately, the coaches lost the softball game, which is not something I’m accustomed to, so I’m just getting over that loss,” said coach Steve Alford.
But while Alford was disappointed in the coaches’ performance in the softball game, he came away from the team’s weekend retreat to Lake Arrowhead pleased with the outcome. Alford called the team’s experience “tremendous,” pointing to the Bruins’ improved chemistry as an important by-product of their time spent together.
“The chemistry of our team has been outstanding, but as we addressed a lot the issues up there, the season hasn’t started. … We gotta be tough about things now and build towards a season where we know those things are going to happen to us and we have to be ready to deal with them when they happen,” Alford said.
Beyond the bonding brought on by a tightly contested softball game, the Bruins also performed several team-building exercises, learning things about each other they never knew, as players played a “truth and lies” game and the coaches opened up about their life stories. Junior guard Norman Powell said he was most surprised to learn about a little-known hobby of sophomore forward/center Tony Parker.
“It was something like he writes poetry,” Powell said. “Like I never thought Tony would be someone to write poetry. … You wouldn’t know Tony had a sensitive side to him.”
Sharing these personal details, besides bringing the team closer together, also had a more tangible on-court impact for the Bruins.
“I think we all trust each other more. … That’ll help us in a tough situation in games, to depend on each other and trust each other,” Adams said.
After some team chemistry issues with last year’s team, most notably after former forward Shabazz Muhammad neglected to celebrate with his team after Drew II’s buzzer beater, Powell said he has seen a difference in how close the team is this season compared to the last.
“We’re a lot closer (than last year). I think the coaches have been doing a really good job with bringing us together and really nailing that this is a team, we’re a family and whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it together,” Powell said. “Everything we do, we’re doing it as a family. We’ll win games together, we’ll lose games together, and we’re just gonna ride this long season out.”
Bail not back
While Wanaah Bail was cleared by the NCAA last week as eligible to play this season, the freshman forward is still recovering from surgery repairing torn cartilage in his left knee.
Bail spoke to the media for the first time Monday, expressing his enthusiasm at the NCAA’s ruling.
“It was a big step forward,” Bail said. “I’m glad to be able to play this season. We got a few guys that’s gonna be leaving next year, we’ve got three seniors this year, so I’m happy to play alongside with these guys.”
Bail didn’t give a timetable on his return, saying he’s waiting for the doctors to clear him and taking things one week at a time. When he does return, Bail will ease the burden on a short-staffed frontcourt lacking depth.
“It’s great – that’s big time for us,” said redshirt senior forward David Wear. “He’s obviously a really good player and he just adds another element to the team that we’re going to be able to use this year.”