Inexperienced UCLA will lean on newcomers
LOS ANGELES (AP) Four starters lost, including three to the NBA draft. A slew of newcomers. There's some instability at UCLA.
The Bruins may be hard-pressed to duplicate their success of last season, when coach Steve Alford arrived in Westwood. He's got one returning starter in senior Norman Powell, who averaged 11.4 points and 2.8 rebounds.
The rest of the Bruins are mostly unproven, which led to them being picked by the media to finish fourth in the Pac-12.
''They know a lot is going to be asked of them this season,'' Powell said. ''It's about coming in with an open mind, trying to get better.''
UCLA went 28-9, won the Pac-12 tournament title and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 in Alford's first season. Earlier this month, he received a one-year contract extension through the 2020-21 season.
UCLA lost three players in the first round of the NBA draft - Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine - while David and Travis Wear graduated. Adams, Anderson and the Wear twins were starters.
The Bruins will be playing on a new hardwood floor in Pauley Pavilion after a water main break near campus flooded the historic arena in late July. It ruined the team's locker room, training and weight rooms just two years after the arena underwent a $136 million renovation.
Their fans will be getting some better seats, with the number of student seats in the arena's lower bowl increased by nearly a quarter.
The Bruins open the season at home against Montana State on Nov. 14.
Here are some things to know about UCLA this season:
INEXPERIENCE: The Bruins have five freshmen, and some of them will be expected to play major minutes. How well the team does early on may depend on how quickly the newcomers adapt to the college game. Kevon Looney, a 6-foot-9 forward from Milwaukee, can play multiple positions and is a solid rebounder, giving the team versatility. He could be one of four guards on the court at the same time. The other freshmen are 7-foot center Thomas Welsh, forward Gyorgy Goloman from Hungary, guard Alec Wulff and Jonah Bolden of Australia, whom the NCAA ruled academically ineligible this season.
BACKCOURT: Powell is getting two new backcourt mates after starting with Adams and Anderson last season. Alford's sophomore son, Bryce, could earn a starting spot after averaging 8.0 points and 2.8 assists off the bench. Sophomore Isaac Hamilton returns after being ineligible last season, when he gained experience playing with Alford and LaVine in practice. ''Bryce has the ability to make people around him better,'' the elder Alford said. ''He understands ball control, understands what we want to do offensively and defensively.''
MEN IN THE MIDDLE: Tony Parker averaged 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds last season, and he'll be joined by Welsh in the middle. Last season, the Bruins fed the ball to their guards, but they will look to get it to their big men more. ''We need to find that fine balance of being able to play quick but also utilize the size we have up front,'' Alford said.
DEFENSE: The Bruins' defense ranked eighth among Pac-12 teams, giving up an average of 70.4 points last season. They played some zone defense, but opponents took advantage by shooting 3-pointers. With six players standing 6-foot-9 or taller, the team's zone should be more imposing.
TOUGH STRETCH: The Bruins have a tough three-game stretch leading into their Pac-12 opener. They host Gonzaga on Dec. 13, play national runner-up Kentucky in Chicago on Dec. 20 and visit Alabama on Dec. 28. Those games should give them a strong idea about where they stand before opening league play on the road at Utah on Jan. 2. The Bruins won't host perennial rival Arizona at home this season because of the league's schedule. Another key game will be Nov. 26 against Oklahoma in the Bahamas tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday, when the Bruins could play North Carolina the next day. ''It's a long season,'' Alford said. ''Are we ready to play the likes of Kentucky today? No. I hope we're a little bit better ready for that when we get to mid-December.''