The masked man was asked to put up some extra shots after
A facial fracture has made the mask a necessity for Looney, likely for the duration of the NCAA tournament. Getting used to it has taken some time, but by Monday night, when UCLA Coach Steve Alford asked the freshman if he wanted extra work, Looney had a new, slimmer mask that felt more natural.
From the corner, Looney took a three-pointer. It went in. He walked off. He was ready.
"He's a lot more comfortable going into this game," Alford said.
The Bruins left for Louisville on Tuesday. There, they'll play Southern Methodist in their opening game of the NCAA tournament.
Looney is the game's biggest question mark.
Playing with a facial fracture against Arizona last week, Looney used a bulky mask that limited his vision and made him hesitant. He scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in 30 minutes, less than half of his season averages.
When he returned to campus, Looney was fitted for a new mask — one similar, Alford said, to what Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is wearing after his facial injury.
"Now we've got him in a UCLA mask," Alford said.
Westbrook's mask has a lower profile and an excellent track record. Westbrook, a former Bruin, has averaged a triple-double in the seven games he has played while wearing it — 33.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 10.1 assists.
Looney is a longshot to approach those totals, but UCLA would be happy if he returned to his normal production level.
Senior guard Norman Powell said Looney's vision appears to have improved. He has displayed more confidence.
After Looney made the corner three-pointer, Alford said Looney told him, " 'Coach, it doesn't matter, mask or no mask.' "
Memories of the NCAA tournament conjure images of plucky underdogs who have beaten the tournament favorites, and the odds: Florida Gulf Coast, Davidson, Butler…
Powell said the Bruins are relishing this rare opportunity to be an underdog. He referred to UCLA as a possible "Cinderella team."
"It's always good to be the team that nobody's picking to make the NCAA tournament — actually thought we were going to be in the tournament — let alone win this game," Powell said.
UCLA's 11th seed is the lowest ever for the program, tied with the 2005 team. UCLA lost in the first round that year.
The closest the Bruins have come to a Cinderella run was in 1980, when they reached the national championship game as a No. 8 seed. The coach that year was Larry Brown, who now guides SMU.
Alford said he won't be playing up the underdog angle.
"We haven't really said much about the critics," Alford said.