Down to 10 players, the Bruins are ready for the season to start.
Freshman center Ike Anigbogu and senior guard Bryce Alford are out with injuries, and a couple walk-ons suffered sprained ankles, but at Tuesday’s practice coach Steve Alford said he was still excited to test out his new team in real game situations.
“We just need to play somebody,” Alford said. “Guys are tired of going against each other, they’re tired of the blue-gold thing. And coaches, we need a barometer as well. We need to play someone to see where our weaknesses are offensively and defensively.”
Last year, the Bruins had no set defense, switching between zone and man-to-man, but neither were effective with shutting down opponents, and the team gave up an average of 76.7 points per game.
Alford said UCLA will play primarily man-to-man this year instead of being “all over the place.”
Freshman guard Lonzo Ball said this defense, although new and unlike anything he had ever played before, seemed effective in practice and focused on “funneling opponents into the middle” as opposed to the baseline.
Anigbogu, who is out four to six weeks with a meniscus tear in his left knee, was the linchpin in the Bruins’ defense, but in his absence the team will focus on developing other players while still executing.
“He’s the key to what we want to do,” said senior guard Isaac Hamilton. “We can pressure up more because we know Ike’s gonna be back there cleaning up and getting rebounds.”
On the other side of the ball, UCLA has Ball, one of the nation’s top recruits, running the offense.
Ball lead Chino Hills High School to state and national championships as a senior, earning multiple player of the year awards, and teammates and coaches are eager for him to transition and have the same impact at the college level.
“He passes, that’s what he loves to do.” Hamilton said. “With Bryce and I shooting the ball, he’ll get a lot of assists and it’ll make his job easier and our job easier too.”
As the only team featured in the top 25 to have a losing record last season, No. 20 UCLA kicks off the 2016-2017 season with an exhibition game against Master’s University. The Bruins take on nonconference opponents Pacific, Cal State Northridge and San Diego to open up the regular season.