UCLA hasn't had the toughest nonconference men's basketball schedule in recent years, but that is changing.
The Bruins announced Wednesday they added a sixth brand name to their early 2014-15 schedule — perennial West Coast Conference power Gonzaga.
UCLA will play host to the Bulldogs on Dec. 13 at Pauley Pavilion, and Gonzaga will get a return game in Spokane, Wash., or another site of its choice the following season.
The Gonzaga game will be played a week before the Bruins travel to Chicago to play Kentucky in a nationally televised game at the United Center as part of the CBS Sports Classic. UCLA will also be traveling to the Bahamas for three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Nov. 26-28. The field for that tournament — another nationally televised event — includes Butler, Florida, North Carolina, Georgetown, Oklahoma, Alabama Birmingham and Wisconsin. The bracket has not been released.
"We like being in really good neutral-game tournaments," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said, noting that the CBS tournament is the first in a three-year deal that calls for the Bruins to play North Carolina at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., in December 2015 and face Ohio State at a still-to-be-determined venue in Las Vegas the following year.
"That's probably the best field that Atlantis tournament has ever had," Alford added. "The kids we're recruiting, they want to play a really good schedule, and as coaches we like doing that, so it kind of goes hand and hand."
UCLA also has a game at Alabama on Dec. 28, after hosting the Crimson Tide last year.
The Bruins played 13 nonconference games last season — Alford's first as UCLA's coach — highlighted by games against Missouri at Columbia, Mo., and Duke at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Bruins lost both, but took away something from the experiences. "Once we got to the postseason we reflected on some of those games we had in the nonconference," Alford said.
In former coach Ben Howland's final season, UCLA had a decent schedule that included early games against Georgetown at Barclays Center, San Diego State in Anaheim, Texas at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and Missouri at Pauley Pavilion.
But the two seasons before that the Bruins' nonconference slate was filled mostly with games played locally — and televised locally — against the likes of Cal State Northridge, Montana State, Middle Tennessee State and UC Davis.
Alford was not concerned about UCLA's strength of schedule — "Our league takes care of a lot of that now with the Pac-12 trending up," he said — but it's among several factors weighed in choosing opponents. "You want to play a very solid … schedule when it comes to nonconference," Alford said. "It's preparing your team for league play and for tournament play."
UCLA finished with a record of 28-9 last season, Alford's first after being hired away from New Mexico. The Bruins won the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship and defeated Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA tournament before losing to top-ranked Florida in a regional semifinal.
However, the Bruins must replace four starters and a top reserve. Forwards Travis and David Wear were seniors, and sophomore guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams — the team's leading scorers — declared for early entry into the NBA draft, along with freshman guard Zach LaVine.
Alford said a team's expected lineup is another consideration in scheduling, but that was a moving target this year.
"We thought we might lose Kyle and Zach or Kyle and Jordan, but I don't think when we went through it we thought we'd lose all three of them," Alford said. "It's not an exact science by any stretch."