UCLA gears up to face Kent State during final practice

UCLA freshman guard Lonzo Ball attempts a dunk during the Bruins open practice at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, on Thursday, March 16, 2017. UCLA will take on Kent State Friday at 10 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.

Henry Palattella

Most of the teams that participated in Thursday’s open practice in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center did so in front of modest, quiet crowds.

University of California Los Angeles, on the other hand, had its own cheering section waiting for its team by the tunnel, filled with people of all ages clad with smartphones asking (and sometimes begging) for autographs.

Some of the teams, such as UCLA, elected to have their band make an appearance halfway through the teams’ practice and greet them as they came on the court.

Many of the teams chose to divide up their allotted 40-minute practice time into working on shots from different parts of the court; UCLA’S team spent most of their practice shooting solely three-pointers — up until they decided to have an impromptu half-court shooting contest that then turned into a dunk contest.

Most teams today spent their last practice before the NCAA Tournament running through their game plan.

UCLA isn’t most teams.

Most teams wouldn’t have a player that fans say are better than reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry (of the Golden State Warriors). That player is freshman guard Lonzo Ball.

Ball, much like his team, isn’t like your typical college player.

At practice, Ball sported a bandage on his left hand due to a sprain and spent most of the practice working on his three-point shot.

When asked about Kent State in the team’s press conference beforehand, Ball referenced the craziness that March brings to college basketball.

“In a tournament like this, conference don’t matter,” Ball said. “Every team is good — we know that. We’ve got to come out and play our game.”  

Ball was joined at the press-conference by backcourt battery mate senior Bryce Alford, who is the son of UCLA coach Steve Alford.

Bryce — who is shooting 43 percent from three this year — said this year has been special.

“(I’ve) been here four years now and this is the most fun I’ve had playing basketball at UCLA,” Alford said. “But it’s been a fun year to date, and hopefully we can finish it the way that we started.”

Alford’s presence on the court might have to be expanded Friday, as freshman center Ike Anigbogu is “day-to-day” due to a sprained foot. Ball and starting shooting guard TJ Leaf will come into the game with nagging injuries, but Alford said the two of them are “back near 100 percent.”

While the UCLA players may have not been able to go into detail when talking about Kent State, their coach picked up the slack.

Alford, who grew up 20 minutes away from Ball State University, said Kent State brings a look the Bruins haven’t faced this year.

“I know about (the MAC) very well and winning nine out of ten is not easy,” Alford said. “(Kent State) is going to give us a look we haven’t seen in awhile. PAC-12 is usually big, big and there are a lot of four-guard line-ups out there against Kent State.”

This season will most likely be the last for Ball, who has already voiced his intention of going to the NBA after the season. He said that hasn’t changed his mentality coming into the game.

“(I’ll do) the same thing I do every game,” Ball said. “Go out there and try to help my team do everything we can to win.”

Henry Palattella is the sports editor, contact him at [email protected].