Like the rest of his teammates, UCLA guard Norman Powell is eager to begin play in the NCAA tournament, where the Bruins will play Tulsa on Friday in San Diego.
“We’re focused, everyone is talking about this, everyone is eager to go out there and play,” Powell said. “This team has put the work in and we’re happy to see the work paid off.”
A year ago, in their last NCAA tournament moment, the Bruins lost their opening game, 83-63, to Minnesota at the end of a season of turmoil.
“Every team goes through something,” Powell said. “It’s about focusing.”
There were NCAA probes into whether Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad were eligible at the start of the season — both were cleared — and the growing likelihood that coach Ben Howland would be fired at season’s end.
In between, there were brush fires, like the Internet report questioning whether Muhammad had obtained a high-end backpack in possible violation of NCAA rules. (There was no violation.)
Things further spiraled when Jordan Adams broke his foot in the Pac-12 tournament.
“It was a hard year,” Anderson said. “It was tough on college kids, especially Shabazz. He wears a nice backpack and everyone makes a big deal out of it. I think last year we did more than a lot of people expected. We had an unfortunate injury that threw our team off at the wrong time.”
This year the Bruins expect more.
“We’re excited about this,” Powell said. “We’re hungry this year.”
Powell, the Bruins’ top defender, said he has been assigned Tulsa’s James Woodard when the Bruins play man-to-man.
Woodard, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, is the Golden Hurricane’s leading scorer, averaging 15.7 points.
“I watched the tape of him,” Powell said. “He’s great offensive skills. He’s a lot like [Stanford’s] Chasson Randle.”
Powell held Randle to 11 points in the Bruins’ 84-59 victory over Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
The NCAA tournament, as usual, fell on a week when UCLA players had finals. This is where being seeded fourth and being sent to San Diego paid off for the Bruins, who were not flying to another time zone this week.
“Most of their finals were on Monday and Tuesday,” Coach Steve Alford said. “We still have guys who have to do some things, like papers.”