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What’s Bruin: UCLA Basketball’s Win Streak Fueled by Defense?

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News and notes from around the UCLA-iverse.

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at UCLA
TJ Leaf blocks a shot by Southern Cal during the Bruins’ win on Saturday night.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Men’s Basketball

Perhaps it was the players-only meeting following two consecutive losses in January; perhaps it started when Steve Alford made the tactical decision in the second-half against Oregon to have Lonzo Ball guard Dillon Brooks. Whatever it was, whenever it started, one thing about the Bruins’ current winning streak is clear: the defense has been, well, not bad.

Matt Cummings in the Daily Bruin writes about UCLA’s newfound appreciation of defense in February.

The Bruins held the Trojans to just 33.8 percent shooting, which is USC’s second-worst performance of the season.

Over the five games since the January loss at USC including Saturday’s game, UCLA’s opponents have shot just 41 percent as the Bruins raised their level of commitment to the defensive end.

Much of the improvement has come from simple fixes, such as an emphasis on players maintaining proper defensive stances and putting their hands up to disrupt passing lanes and produce deflections.

The Grey Lady was back in Westwood last week for a piece about freshman forward TJ Leaf by Marc Tracy, and how his father Brad—a veteran of Israel’s professional basketball league—taught his son to play like a guard.

The world has seen Brad and T. J. Leaf’s efforts blossom during the past several months. T. J. Leaf, a freshman at U.C.L.A. and now 6-10 (verging, according to his coach, Steve Alford, on 6-11), rebounds on both ends, sets picks on the perimeter, kicks the ball out to shooters and makes nearly half his 3-point attempts. In short, he has become exactly the kind of Swiss Army knife big man that Brad taught him to be, and that the N.B.A. and even college basketball teams increasingly seek.

And from another New York paper—The Post, this time—Mark Cannizzaro has a feature about the three Ball boys and their showman father.

LaVar talks this way about all three of his boys. And, if you’re merely reading the quotes, it’s easy to view him as an obnoxious, pushy gasbag.

But to meet LaVar is to believe LaVar. His positive energy is so infectious that if he told you there would be no traffic at 5 p.m. on a Friday between Santa Monica and downtown LA, you’d believe him.

Rather than recoil from it and view it as adding pressure, the Ball boys embrace LaVar’s bravado.

Women’s Basketball

With a sweep of the Washington schools over the weekend, the women’s basketball team clinched a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

Jordin Canada, who spent most of the week rehabbing a neck injury she suffered against Oregon State, came off the bench against UW and scored 22 points to lead the Bruins (20-7, 11-5 Pac-12) to a critical ranked victory.

Softball

The Bruins won four straight games in the first weekend of the Mary Nutter Classic to improve their record to 10-1 on the season.

#6 UCLA will play #12 Georgia when the classic continues on Thursday.

GO BRUINS.