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The Sports Report: Star-studded Rams look far from Super Bowl worthy

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp sits on the field after an incomplete pass.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp sits on the field after an incomplete pass in a 31-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on Monday.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Gary Klein on the Rams: Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was in the starting lineup. So was linebacker Von Miller.

The Rams’ two newest stars — on a team that is fairly bursting with them — made their debut Monday night.

It didn’t matter.

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Not against the San Francisco 49ers. Not with the Rams’ biggest star, quarterback Matthew Stafford, putting them in a hole for a second consecutive game.

And not with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan once again outdueling protege Sean McVay.

All that buzz about the Rams?

It ended when they ran into an unexpected buzz saw.

The Rams and the 49ers played role reversal in the Rams’ 31-10 defeat at Levi’s Stadium.

The Rams, with an opportunity to tie the Arizona Cardinals for the NFC West lead, instead lost their second game in a row and saw their record drop to 7-3 overall and 1-2 in the division.

Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. walks off the field after a 31-10 loss to the 49ers on Monday.
(Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

“I choose to believe that these last couple weeks are not who we are,” McVay said. “I refuse to believe that.”

The 49ers improved to 4-5 by defeating the Rams for the fifth consecutive time.

Consider: The Rams have not won a game against the 49ers since 2018, the season they went to the Super Bowl.

The additions of Stafford, Miller and Beckham were made with the aim — no, let’s call it the mandate — that the boom-or-bust Rams play in Super Bowl LVI in February at owner Stan Kroenke’s $5-billion SoFi Stadium.

That investment in talent might still pay off.

But the Rams are limping into next week’s open date.

More on the Rams from Sam Farmer: 49ers frustrate Rams by playing keep-away from Matthew Stafford in win

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LAKERS

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: The buzz left the building in the third quarter, returning only when Anthony Davis was ejected from the game with 2:20 left in the quarter and increasing when the Lakers cut a 25-point deficit to 15 in the fourth quarter.

Fans had seen this act before, the Lakers getting dominated in the third quarter, unable to match the energy and effort of yet another opponent.

This time, the Lakers couldn’t keep up with the faster and younger Chicago Bulls after the intermission, getting run off the Staples Center court during a 121-103 defeat before 18,997 fans at Staples Center on Monday night.

“It’s things we got to get better at,” the Lakers’ Carmelo Anthony said. “We will get better at it. We know it. We talk about it. We discuss it. So, now it’s a matter of putting that in motion.”

Lonzo Ball, the former Laker who played at Chino Hills High and UCLA, put a stop to whatever thoughts the Lakers had at attempting a comeback.

DODGERS

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations, talks with manager Dave Roberts during spring training.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Dylan Hernández on the Dodgers: When it comes to Trevor Bauer, what’s important is what the Dodgers aren’t talking about.

They aren’t talking about his future, which is as good a sign as any they don’t see him as a part of theirs.

Less certain is how much the Dodgers still have to pay the alleged modern-day Marquis de Sade. His contract is worth $64 million over the next two years.

The Dodgers don’t know when they will learn how Bauer will impact their budget. The amount they owe Bauer can be reduced if he is suspended without pay by Major League Baseball, which might not discipline the knucklehead pitcher until the Los Angeles Country district attorney’s office decides whether to file criminal charges related to sexual assault accusations made against him by a woman.

The unresolved situation with Bauer further complicates what was already expected to be the team’s most arduous offseason since Andrew Friedman traded former franchise cornerstone Matt Kemp in his first winter as the president of baseball operations.

“The offseason is challenging in a lot of ways, in that the timing element of it is tricky to navigate,” Friedman said last week at baseball’s general managers’ meetings in Carlsbad.

Friedman was describing offseasons in general.

The timing element of this particular offseason will be trickier than usual, and not only because of Bauer’s uncertain effect on the payroll.

UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Long Beach State's Romelle Mansel, right, loses the ball as he battles UCLA's Tyger Campbell during the Bruins' win Monday.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Ben Bolch on UCLA men’s basketball: UCLA is unbeaten and averaging 93.7 points per game, winning with a formula that might not be built for long-term success.

The Bruins are outscoring everybody while continually faltering on defense.

The trends continued Monday night during second-ranked UCLA’s 100-79 victory over Long Beach State at Pauley Pavilion that was far less pleasing to Bruins coach Mick Cronin than the score might indicate.

“If I had a pair of sneakers,” Cronin said, “I think I could score on some of our guys tonight and I turned 50 this summer.”

Cronin was alluding to his team’s inability to stop Long Beach State’s Joel Murray and Colin Slater, who combined for 57 points while making 23 of 30 shots (76.7%). The Bruins tried different lineups. They put different defenders on Murray and Slater. Nothing worked.

“When you give up 57 points to two players, that’s obviously unacceptable,” said UCLA guard Jules Bernard, whose 22 points and career-high seven assists were secondary story lines. “Especially for us. Our standard for defense is set at a high bar.”

Using a small-ball lineup for much of the second half that featured guard Jaylen Clark and guard-forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. as its big men, the Bruins (3-0) averted a major upset. It was more relief than rejoicing after UCLA used a 28-13 surge to persevere through its ragged defensive effort.

UCLA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the UCLA women’s basketball team: Multi-tasking is nothing new for Cori Close. The UCLA coach led Team USA’s under-19 squad to a gold medal this summer and is the president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Assn. So when UCLA’s season-opening game fell on the same date as national signing day, it was nothing the UCLA staff couldn’t handle.

It was a doubly successful day for the No. 20 Bruins, who not only started their season with a win over Pepperdine but also locked in a bright future by signing five recruits who help make up what is expected to be the top-ranked recruiting class in the country.

With guards Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones, forward Gabriela Jaquez and centers Christeen Iwuala and Lina Sontag submitting their national letters of intent Wednesday, the first day of the signing period, the Bruins have what might be their best class ever under Close. The group, which includes two additional verbal commitments, rivals the 2014 class that featured eventual WNBA draft picks Jordin Canada and Monique Billings and led the Bruins to their second NCAA regional final appearance.

“That class was so important, but [the message] was ‘come take us to a foundation and level to consistency that we’ve never been to,’ ” Close said of the previously top-ranked class. “I’m so thankful and proud of what that class did. … But we haven’t gone to a Final Four yet. We haven’t won a Pac-12 championship yet since I’ve been here.

“So really, when I was looking at this particular class, it was about who has the drive, who has the mindset, who has the sacrifice, who has the heart of a lion to take the baton from such great players, the people that came before them, and take us to being consistent championship contenders?”

USC FOOTBALL

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart celebrates as he scores a touchdown against Arizona State on Nov. 6.
(Darryl Webb / Associated Press)

Ryan Kartje on USC football: With Kedon Slovis still sidelined by a lower leg injury and its season at a crossroads, USC will turn to dynamic freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart to make his first college start against UCLA on Saturday at the Coliseum.

USC interim coach Donte Williams made the news official during the Trojans Live radio show Monday night, breaking with his previous trend of not announcing the starter.

“Right now, Kedon, we still don’t like where he’s at right now just from a health standpoint, so he’s not truly able to go right now,” Williams said. “So Jaxson’s going to be our starter, and just like everyone else he’ll continue to fight for that until Kedon is back and fully into that competition.”

The severity of his injury remains unclear. Slovis didn’t appear to suffer any noticeable injury during USC’s 31-16 loss at Arizona State on Nov. 6 and even spoke with reporters after the game. Williams made note of minor injuries to both quarterbacks during his postgame comments, but he didn’t seem concerned about the long-term outlook of either.

Slovis hasn’t practiced in the nine days since. Last week, as he watched from the sideline at practice, he wore a compression sleeve on his knee and walked with a slight limp. When discussing a possible return to compete with Dart, Williams was cryptic about his starting quarterback’s status the rest of the season.

SOCCER

Kevin Baxter on the U.S. men’s national team: Shortly after Tim Weah woke up Saturday morning, a day after the U.S. national team’s 2-0 victory over Mexico in World Cup qualifying, he found a text message waiting for him.

“I just wanted to write to you to tell you, you were really good yesterday and I’m so proud of how you have been moving along in your career,” it began. “Your moment has come and you’ve worked hard for this and I’m pleased for you.”

The writer was Dave Sarachan, the coach who gave Weah his first cap with the national team, then watched him score his first goal and collect his first assist. And Weah wasn’t the only one. In Sarachan’s 12 months as interim coach of the U.S. team, he gave a record 23 players — including Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Zack Steffen and Antonee Robinson — their international debuts. Six of those players started against Mexico.

With the exception of Gregg Berhalter, the current coach, few people have done more to shape this national team than Sarachan, who will watch Tuesday’s qualifier against Jamaica from his living room in Omaha, gone if not forgotten.

Which is fine with him.

“I know the work I did with my staff that year,” he said. “It was really almost impossible. And yet, I feel satisfied that we identified many that are now a part of things. That pleases me the most.”

The U.S. goes into Tuesday’s match leading the eight-team World Cup qualifying tournament on goal differential, but it will be missing two big pieces in McKennie, who is suspended because of yellow card accumulation, and defender Miles Robinson, who drew a red card in the Mexico match.

UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on during a game against Washington on Oct. 16.
(Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

Ben Bolch on UCLA football: UCLA could very well finish the regular season 8-4, a level of success the program hasn’t achieved since posting that same record in 2015.

But what would it mean?

The last time UCLA went 8-4, it was considered a wild disappointment. The Bruins got overrun by Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl, resulting in a new offensive coordinator and a change in philosophy designed to make the team more physical to match up with teams like the Cornhuskers and Stanford (it didn’t work).

Matching that record this season would allow UCLA to play in another mid-tier bowl while satisfying those in the save-Chip-Kelly camp. The embattled coach’s supporters could point to three consecutive wins to close the regular season as well as an upward trajectory from 3-9 to 4-8 to 3-4 to 8-4 in Kelly’s four seasons while qualifying for a bowl for the first time since 2017.

The earlier refrain still applies: What would it mean?

Even if UCLA (6-4 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) defeats USC (4-5, 3-4) and California (3-6, 2-4), the Bruins are assured of completing the regular season without having beaten one opponent with a winning record.

That win over Louisiana State that felt so glorious in early September? It seems insignificant now. The Tigers could finish .500 — at best — in the regular season and have already decided to part ways with coach Ed Orgeron.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1929 — USC and Notre Dame play before 112,912 at Soldier Field in Chicago, with the Fighting Irish prevailing 13-12. It’s the third time in the 1920s that the two schools attract more than 112,000 fans.

1957 — Notre Dame ends Oklahoma’s NCAA record 47-game winning streak with a 7-0 triumph.

1957 — Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics sets an NBA Record with 49 rebounds in a 111-89 victory over the Philadelphia Warriors.

1962 — Wilt Chamberlain scores 73 points, including 45 in the first half, to lead the San Francisco Warriors to a 127-111 victory over the New York Knicks.

1968 — Ron Johnson rushes for 347 yards and scores five touchdowns to lead Michigan to a 34-9 rout of Wisconsin.

1976 — Rick Barry of the San Francisco Warriors ends then the longest NBA free throw streak of 60 in a 110-102 win over the Seattle SuperSonics. Barry scores 33 points, including 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.

1980 — Doug Williams of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes for 486 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

1982 — The NFL Management Council and the NFL Players’ Association announce settlement of a 57-day player strike.

1991 — Gerry Thomas of No. 1 Florida State misses a 34-yard field goal by the length of a football with 25 seconds left, giving No. 2 Miami a 17-16 victory.

1993 — Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets has his consecutive free throw streak end at 81 in an 86-74 loss to San Antonio. Abdul-Rauf’s streak is the second longest in NBA history, trailing only the record 97 established by Minnesota’s Micheal Williams one week earlier.

1996 — Byron Hanspard of Texas Tech becomes the sixth major-college player to run for 2,000 yards in a season, rushing for 257 yards and four touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ 56-21 victory over Southwestern Louisiana.

1996 — Corey Dillon set an NCAA rushing record for a quarter, gaining 222 yards on 16 carries in the first period as No. 15 Washington overwhelmed San Jose State 53-10.

2002 — Larry Johnson rushes for 327 yards, a career-high four TDs and shatters the 31-year-old school career rushing record, leading Penn State to a 58-25 victory over Indiana.

2008 — Pittsburgh rallies to beat San Diego 11-10, the first such final in NFL history, spanning 12,837 games.

2012 — Stanford snaps defending national champion Baylor’s 42-game winning streak, winning 71-69 when player of the year Brittney Griner misses a short turnaround at the buzzer.

2013 — Cartel Brooks of Heidelberg runs for 465 yards to set an all-division NCAA record in a 42-14 win over Baldwin Wallace. Brooks, with 38 carries, scores on runs of 81, 41 and 13 yards.

2013 — Ricardo Louis scores on a deflected 73-yard pass on fourth and 18 with 25 seconds left to lift No. 7 Auburn to a stunning 43-38 victory over No. 25 Georgia.

2014 — Erica Enders-Stevens wins the Auto Club NHRA Finals to become the first woman to earn the Pro Stock world championship title.

2017 — James Harden scores 23 of his 48 points in the second quarter while Houston puts up 90 points in the first half en route to a 146-116 win over Phoenix. The Rockets make 61 percent of their first-half shots to get the second-most points in a first half in NBA history.

And finally

Open-field tackles by 305-pound defensive linemen on fake field-goal tries are rare, and the 49ers pulled one off against the Rams. Watch it here:

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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