At 7 feet, UCLA's Thomas Welsh may be a factor against Chanticleers

After winning their season opener against Montana State, Bruins will face more formidable Coastal Carolina

Thomas Welsh is hard to miss on the basketball court. In UCLA's opening game on Friday, the stringy 7-footer pumped his fist after most baskets. His limbs flew every which way as he bounded up and down the court. And yes, he did try to bank a free throw.

Watching the attempt, the bench started laughing.

"Free throws," UCLA Coach Steve Alford advised him when Welsh came off the floor, "that's a tough bank angle."

Welsh played only 13 minutes in UCLA's opening game on Friday, yet in a game in which Norman Powell overpowered, Bryce Alford pulled the strings and Kevon Looney was as advertised, Welsh might have stolen the show.

He will be one to watch when UCLA plays a more formidable opponent on Sunday — Coastal Carolina, an NCAA Tournament team last season. Welsh and UCLA had no trouble against Montana State, but the Chanticleers are experienced and talented for a Big South team. Four starters return from last year's tournament run.

"We're going to get big tested come Sunday," Alford said.

Their tallest regular, though, is just 6-8, meaning Welsh could see ample time again if Alford decides to go big.

On Friday, Welsh couldn't figure out the free throws — he finished 0-for-3 on the night — but he compiled a pretty astonishing stat line in just 13 minutes. He scored 14 points, with four rebounds, two steals and a block. And a significant portion of that came outside of garbage time.

"Thomas is a spot-up shooter from 17 feet and in," Powell said. "He hits a lot of shots. He's going to be a great player."

Welsh developed late at Loyola High School, and though he is listed at 245 pounds, he still must add strength. On Friday, he showed a shooting touch and post skills. In the second half, he finished a dunk through contact.

On another possession, he missed a pair of free throws, got the rebound, missed, got the rebound again and finally scored.

Welsh didn't have the best game of any Bruin, but he was the most surprising. The talent of Powell and Looney was unquestioned, and Alford played often last season.

Of course, Welsh's performance came against Montana State. Coastal Carolina should provide a better gauge of where UCLA stands — and give Welsh another chance to show he can contribute early.


On Looney's opening night, Alford said, "He's always in the right spot at the right time. He's just somebody that we're really going to enjoy watching as he continues to develop." … A sign of UCLA's tempo: The Bruins didn't approach 35 seconds on any offensive possession. … UCLA showed a number of effective zone looks, but Alford said on-ball defense was poor.


When: Sunday, 7 p.m.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Update: The Bruins dominated an inferior team and scored the most points (113) by a UCLA team in an opener since 1993. They shot a combined 57.4% from the field, and 47.4% from three-point range. The defense, though, allowed Montana State to shoot 47.5% from the field. UCLA will have to clean that up in the program's first-ever meeting against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers, 21-13 last season, fought well in a loss to No. 1-seeded Virginia in the NCAA Tournament round of 64 in March.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times