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The 'big shots' just keep coming for UCLA's Lonzo Ball

The 'big shots' just keep coming for UCLA's Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball hoists the Wooden Legacy Trophy while posing for photos with teammates after UCLA defeatd Texas A&M in the championship game Sunday. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The shots weren't falling for Lonzo Ball.

He missed a jumper.

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He airballed a three-pointer.

He airballed another three.

Of the first seven field goals the freshman point guard attempted, only one went in.

Which only added to the superlatives used to describe his performance in the last 10 minutes of No. 14 UCLA's 74-67 victory over Texas A&M in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament.

"Special," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said.

"A difference maker," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said.

"MVP," is what tournament organizers officially designated him.

Over the first six games of his collegiate career, Ball showcased the well-rounded skill set that figures to make him a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

Sunday, he displayed what he has inside of him.

He was often the youngest player on the court, but played as if he was the most experienced. He didn't shoot well, but the postgame conversation was dominated about the baskets he made.

Take what happened when the Bruins suddenly found themselves down with 10 minutes to play after leading for most of the game.

Ball sank a three-pointer to tie the score at 53.

He drove to the basket on UCLA's next possession, reclaiming the lead for the Bruins, 55-53.

He then set up a three-pointer by Aaron Holiday.

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The next time UCLA was behind, Ball responded by burying a shot from several feet behind the three-point arc with 2:40 remaining. The Bruins never trailed again.

"The big thing, which makes him special, he made big shots," Kennedy said.

Ball finished the game with 16 points on six-for-14 shooting.

"I just shook it off," the soft-spoken Ball said.

But his scoring wasn't the reason he was named the tournament's most valuable player. Ball had 28 assists in his three games of the Wooden Legacy to establish a new record for the 10-year-old event.

Ball had 10 assists Sunday, including a breathtaking, two-handed cross-court pass that senior guard Isaac Hamilton converted for the two easiest points of the night.

"I know that if I run the lanes hard, he'll get it up to me," Hamilton said. "Off the rebound, if he has it, I just go."

If Ball established himself the team's leader on a preseason visit to Australia — Alford described how the newcomer "chewed on" his teammates in the huddle of an exhibition — it's now becoming evident that others are picking up on his unselfishness. Ball is averaging more than nine assists.

Alford was pleased with how the Bruins had 19 assists in a relatively slow-paced game.

"We share it well," Alford said.

Ball's presence has changed the role of Alford's son, Bryce. With Ball at point guard, Bryce Alford has moved back to his natural position at shooting guard.

"Guys like Isaac and Bryce, they get to run the floor and they get to utilize what they're really good at, and that's moving without the ball and shooting the ball," Steve Alford said.

Expectations are also higher.

If there was any doubt about that, Ball's father spelled them out to a national television audience Thursday during UCLA's tournament-opening victory over Portland.

Lavar Ball said UCLA would win the national championship.

"Guaranteed," he said.

Steve Alford was amused by the guarantee.

"That's Lavar and that's what makes Lavar special," Alford said. "It's what he has demanded out of all three of his boys and that's excellence.

"That's what we are at UCLA, we are trying to achieve excellence and doing everything we can to get to that point."

Lonzo Ball had a similar response.

"I'm thankful for him," Ball said with a laugh. "That's how he is — loud and always to the point."

Based on what he showed Sunday, the son can probably deal with it.

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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