UCLA hosts Central Arkansas on Wednesday night inits home opener, but it’s what’s been happening off the court that’s dominatedthe early-season headlines so far for the 18th-ranked Bruins. ThreeUCLA freshmen – LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley – were arrested andjailed on shoplifting allegations last week on the team’s visit to China and thetrio was released and flew home Tuesday after intervention from PresidentDonald Trump and the U.S. State Department.
Ball, Hill and Riley were in custody and missedUCLA’s 63-60 season-opening win Saturday over Georgia Tech in Shanghai, and Pac-12Commissioner Larry Scott said Tuesday that the matter now “has been resolved tothe satisfaction of the Chinese authorities.” The rest of the Bruins flew homeSunday, and on Wednesday coach Steve Alford announced at a news conference that the three players have been suspended from the program “indefinitely.” A source close to the Pac-12 told The Associated Press that theconference left all disciplinary decisions in the matter up to UCLA. Allthree players are key members of the Bruins’ highly-regarded six-man freshmanclass, and Ball was expected to contribute immediately in the backcourt and Hilland Riley were counted on to step into the frontcourt rotation.
TV: 11 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT CENTRAL ARKANSAS (1-1): The Bears, of theSouthland Conference, bounced back from a 107-66 season-opening loss at No. 24Baylor by routing the University of the Ozarks 99-51 on Sunday. Jordan Howard,a 5-11 senior guard who entered the season as the Southland’s top returningscorer, is off to a sizzling start, averaging 23 points on 60.7-percentshooting. Backcourt mate Mathieu Kamba is averaging 11 points, while TannerSchmit, Jared Chatham and Hayden Koval share the team rebounding lead with 3.5apiece.
ABOUT UCLA (1-0): Two other members of thefreshman class, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, started in the backcourt andpaced the Bruins with 18 and 14 points, respectively, against Georgia Techwhile also grabbing four rebounds apiece. Meanwhile, senior forward ThomasWelsh is back as the team’s lone returning starter and looks to be as strong asever inside with 10 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and a pair of stealsin the opener. Junior Aaron Holiday, who decided against entering the NBA Draftlast spring, has taken over point guard duties from Lonzo Ball and overcamefour turnovers to contribute 11 points and seven assists vs. Georgia Tech.
1. UCLA went 16-1 at home last season, losingonly to No. 14 Arizona (96-85) on Jan. 21.
2. The Bruins, who ranked second nationally lastyear in scoring at 89.8 points per game, had 63 in their opener, marking thefirst time they have failed to reach 65 since a 75-63 loss to California onFeb. 25, 2016.
3. Last season, UCLA shattered the single-seasonPac-12 assists record with 771 (21.4 per outing) but had only 11 – to go alongwith 14 turnovers – against Georgia Tech.
PREDICTION: UCLA 100, Central Arkansas 71