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UCLA opening season on road against a local? Goodness gracious sakes alive!

UCLA coach Mick Cronin argues a call during the second half of a game against Washington State last season.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin argues a call last season during a game against Washington State on Feb. 13 at Pauley Pavilion.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

If the testing protocols are agreed upon, the television lineups solidified and the contracts signed, UCLA will open the basketball season in a most unusual place: on the road against a Southern California opponent.

The Bruins are finalizing discussions with San Diego State, Pepperdine and UC Irvine to stage a multi-team event Thanksgiving week at Viejas Arena in San Diego, though nothing can be announced until arrangements are formalized.

If UCLA played San Diego State to start the event, it would be the first time in the modern era that the Bruins opened a season with a road game against a team from Southern California.

UCLA opened the 2011-12 season against Loyola Marymount at the Sports Arena, but the Bruins were designated the home team that season while Pauley Pavilion was undergoing renovations. UCLA played UC Irvine in a neutral-site opener in Anchorage during the 1990-91 season as part of the Great Alaska Shootout.

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UCLA announced on Thursday that it would play Kentucky on Dec. 19 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland as part of the CBS Sports Classic.

This would be different, and to some longtime Bruins faithful, it might represent sacrilege for a storied program that has often shuddered at the thought of playing a nonconference road game against a team from Southern California.

One must go all the way back to the 1940-41 season, when UCLA opened with two road games at San Diego State, to find something comparable to what might happen later this month.

But unusual times call for creative measures. UCLA needed replacement games after its previous opening games in the Wooden Legacy were wiped out by issues regarding testing protocols related to the coronavirus.

If the Bruins head to San Diego to start their season, they would go in search of a challenge.

“My choice would be to get the two toughest games we could get,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Monday. “That’s my mindset. Our guys want to play the best teams we can play, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

That would likely entail games against San Diego State and Pepperdine. The Aztecs are coming off a season in which they went 30-2 and finished ranked No. 6 in both national polls. The Waves, coached by former UCLA assistant and longtime Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, return three starters, including Colbey Ross, a first-team All-West Coast Conference selection who averaged 20.5 points last season.

UCLA has entered discussions with San Diego State to hold a multiteam event in late November at the Aztecs’ home arena that would serve as the Bruins’ season opener.

UC Irvine would be no gimme either, with the Anteaters returning two All-Big West Conference starters in Brad Greene and Collin Welp.

Etc.

Cronin said his team worked to install its offense earlier than normal in practices in case a viral outbreak sidelined players for an extended period. “If you get shut down for two weeks and then all of a sudden you come back and you’ve got a game and you haven’t put your offense all the way in, you can see the dilemma with that,” Cronin said. … The Bruins plan to adopt social justice messaging in some form this season, Cronin said, with the details being worked out before the opener. “Whether it’s pregame [routines], shirts, patches — all of the above options are out there,” Cronin said. … Cronin said redshirt junior forward Jalen Hill has returned to practice after being slowed by a knee injury.


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