UCLA is running out of time to build any momentum ahead of the start of Pac-12 play on Dec. 29, but coach Steve Alford continues to exercise patience with his shorthanded squad. The Bruins look to get untracked Tuesday against visiting South Dakota following back-to-back losses to Michigan and Cincinnati.
UCLA has struggled with a lack of depth since freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were suspended prior to the season opener in China, and the team’s eight-man rotation has been tested in the past two games. “You went from one day having 11 in the rotation to eight,” coach Steve Alford told reporters. “They’re competing, they’re working, they’re just trying to figure some things out and I think as they get a little bit more mature in this process, their play will emulate that.” After committing 20 turnovers in an overtime loss to Michigan, the Bruins had 18 in a 77-63 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday, when senior center Thomas Welsh was held to four points on 2-for-7 shooting. Welsh is averaging 12.6 points and 10.6 rebounds for UCLA, whose nonconference resume does not yet include a victory over a team with a winning record.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT SOUTH DAKOTA (11-3): Junior guard Matt Mooney averages 17.2 points to lead the Coyotes, who recorded their fourth straight win with Sunday’s 76-62 victory at San Jose State. Junior forward Tyler Hagedorn, a 6-foot-10 forward from Nebraska, ranks second on the team in scoring at 14.6 points per game and scored a game-high 27 points with six 3-pointers against the Spartans. Picked to finish second in the Summit League preseason poll, the Coyotes’ three-guard lineup includes senior Carlton Hurst, who is shooting 66.1 percent from the field.
ABOUT UCLA (7-3): Guards Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes scored a combined 29 points in the loss to Cincinnati, which frustrated UCLA with its defensive pressure and used constant double teams to limit Welsh to a season-low point total. Holiday is averaging a team-high 17.6 points for the Bruins, who are 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 75.6 points per game. Alford remains encouraged by the play of freshman point guard Jaylen Hands, who made four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points against Cincinnati and is shooting 46.9 percent from beyond the arc.
1. UCLA has gone 79-14 in Pauley Pavilion since the arena reopened in 2012.
2. South Dakota scored 50 points in the second half of a 96-80 loss at Duke on Dec. 2.
3. UCLA closes out its nonconference schedule Saturday against No. 5 Kentucky in New Orleans.
PREDICTION: UCLA 88, South Dakota 77