Ohio State up next on UCLA’s torment the Big Ten tour

Ohio State big man Trevor Thompson grabs a rebound in front of Connecticut guard Jalen Adams during the first half of a game on Dec. 10.

Ohio State big man Trevor Thompson grabs a rebound in front of Connecticut guard Jalen Adams during the first half of a game on Dec. 10.

(Paul Vernon / Associated Press)

UCLA will return here in three months, intent on winning the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship.

First it wants to continue to torment the Big Ten.

Nebraska tried to get physical with the Bruins only to get manhandled in the final minutes. Michigan ran with UCLA for a half before getting lapped.

Now it’s Ohio State’s turn to try to solve the riddle that is the unbeaten and second-ranked Bruins. UCLA will play the Buckeyes at noon Saturday in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena, with North Carolina and Kentucky completing the doubleheader.


The game is a primer of sorts for the Bruins, a first look at the $375-million arena that opened in April with 18,800 seats for basketball. It will play host to the Pac-12 tournament for the first time in March. UCLA won’t be able to say it shot poorly against its conference brethren because it was getting used to the sight lines.

“We’ll be able to look back on this because we’ve been in that building,” Bruins Coach Steve Alford said of the game against the Buckeyes.

Event organizers probably cringed earlier this month when Ohio State (8-2) lost to Florida Atlantic in overtime on the Buckeyes’ home court, reducing some of the appeal of their nationally televised game against UCLA (11-0).

Ohio State also lost on the road to then-No. 6 Virginia, 63-61, after leading by as many as 16 points in the first half.

“They had them beat, they lost it in the last minute of that game,” Alford said of the Buckeyes. “They’re only two possessions and about 10 seconds from being 10-0.”

Like most Big Ten teams, Ohio State plays a bullying style and places a premium on defense. The Buckeyes rank No. 25 nationally in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make only 37.9% of their shots.


Ohio State usually starts three forwards and a center while bringing 7-foot center Trevor Thompson off the bench. It’s stylistically about as far removed as possible from the Bruins, who like to play four guards at once, have zoomed their way to 100 points in five of their 11 games and average 97.9 points per game, second in the nation.

Going against brutes like Thompson, who posted career highs with 17 points and 17 rebounds last weekend against Connecticut, tends to invigorate UCLA freshman TJ Leaf. It was Nebraska’s massive front line that triggered a breakthrough for the 6-foot-10 power forward.

“I just remember him saying, ‘Hey, I get this. I know what I can do,’ ” Alford said. “I just think it triggered an extra vote of confidence for him of doing it against high-level players.”

Leaf, who had 12 points, four rebounds and four assists during UCLA’s 82-71 victory over the Cornhuskers last month, agreed with his coach’s sentiment even if he remembered the game less fondly.

“I kind of got beat up a little bit and I really never played against multiple guys that big,” Leaf said. “I played against one or two but not the whole team, so I really realized how to get rebounds against guys like that and I think I’m starting to do a better job of it.”

Leaf has grabbed at least eight rebounds in every game since then, including 13 against Kentucky.


UCLA’s front line could get deeper Saturday with the possible return of center Thomas Welsh, who has missed the last two games with a bruised right knee.

The Bruins arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday evening and were scheduled to practice at T-Mobile Arena on Friday. It was preparation for the Buckeyes . . . and what awaits in the same building three months from now.

“It’s good,” Leaf said, “to just get our first game in this arena.”



When: Noon.

Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.

On the air: Channel 2; Radio: 570.

Update: UCLA has won its last four meetings with Ohio State, though the teams have not met since the 1980 NCAA tournament. In five of the last six meetings, including this season, one of the teams has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 nationally. The second-ranked Bruins are making their third consecutive appearance in the CBS Sports Classic, having lost to Kentucky in Chicago the first year and North Carolina in Brooklyn the second year. UCLA will play Kentucky next year as part of the event on Dec. 23, at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. It has also committed to the event in 2018 and 2019.

—Ben Bolch


Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch