For months, Steve Alford has gushed about UCLA possessing the deepest frontcourt since he's coached the Bruins and five high-level guards who could comprise one of the nation's top backcourts.
A recent spate of injuries has made him increasingly thankful for every available body, regardless of pedigree.
Freshman forward-center Ike Anigbogu suffered torn cartilage in his right knee that is expected to sideline him from four to six weeks, and senior guard Bryce Alford suffered a strained hamstring that has kept him out of recent practices but is not expected to be serious. A couple of walk-ons also went down with sprained ankles, leaving the Bruins with about 10 players for practices.
Steve Alford said Anigbogu was expected to miss at least three games, including UCLA's season opener Nov. 11 against Pacific. A best-case scenario would entail a return Nov. 20 against Long Beach State or Nov. 24 against Portland in the opener of the Wooden Legacy at Cal State Fullerton.
"Fortunately, it's a small tear, it's not a major tear," Steve Alford said of Anigbogu's injury, for which he underwent surgery Tuesday, "so I don't think it's going to be a huge setback."
Anigbogu is regarded as UCLA's top rim protector and his absence could provide increased opportunities for G.G. Goloman, Alex Olesinski and Ikenna Okwarabizie behind presumptive starting center Thomas Welsh. His absence will not, however, lead to a stylistic shift.
"We're not going to change how we play because Ike's out," Steve Alford said. "We've just got to keep developing the other guys and then obviously work Ike back into it once he gets back."
Steve Alford described UCLA's defense as being "all over the place" last season, one factor that led to scattershot results. The Bruins tried different zone and man-to-man concepts that included various coverages for pick and rolls and post protections, none of which led to any sustained stops.
Alford said he intended to stick with a simplified man-to-man defense this season.
"We've really gotten it back more simple and really honing in on the fundamentals of what we want to be defensively," Alford said. "Most of that is going to be centered around man to man — not that we won't show zone, not that we won't show press and do some things out of timeouts and do some things to basically see if the opponent knows what they can do against that — but I think you're going to see 85%, 90% of us being in a man to man."
Highly touted freshman guard Lonzo Ball said a primary tenet of the defense was funneling players toward the middle of the court instead of allowing them to drive the baseline.
"I've never really played defense like this before," Ball said, "but it's new and hopefully it works."
Sophomore guard Aaron Holiday said he spent part of his summer practicing against brothers Jrue, a guard with the New Orleans Pelicans who also attended UCLA, and Justin, a guard with the New York Knicks. "It helps a lot because they're obviously big guards," said Aaron, who at 6 feet 1 is three inches shorter than Jrue and five inches shorter than Justin. "I'm not that tall, obviously, but it helps a lot being able to score on them and being able to pick and choose my spots better." … Ball and UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, the two biggest men on campus in terms of athletic prowess, have not met. "I assume I'm going to see him some day," Ball said, "and when we do, I'll say, 'Hi' to him."