The UCLA basketball team has been battling two opponents, those on the court and one of the fathers of the three players suspended for shoplifting in China earlier this month.
Recently the Bruins haven’t been having much success in defeating either.
The team lost to Creighton on Monday, 100-89 and it was their first defeat of the season. They were three-point underdogs, playing in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri.
UCLA was ranked No. 23 in the country and will now probably drop out of the AP Top 25 when the new rankings come out next week, especially if they lose to Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Badgers are two-point favorites.
“They’re really good, in particular offensively,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said of Creighton. “They’re a lot of hard matchups and we’ve got some young guys playing, but this will be a good lesson.”
Alford was alluding to the suspension of the three freshmen for shoplifting in China on Nov. 9. It was the day before the team’s first game of the season against Georgia Tech.
LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill did not play in that contest and were suspended indefinitely from the team a week later.
Absence of Trio Hurting Team
Riley was penciled in as the starter at power forward and Hill was expected to see significant minutes off the bench. The younger brother of former UCLA star and current Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball, was part of a glut of guards and was probably going to see minimal time off the bench.
The disciplinary action has definitely played a part in the alteration of their odds to win the NCAA Championship. They opened as a 25-1 pick to win their 12th title in school history. After the scandal the team has dropped to anywhere from 40-1 to 70-1.
In the four games they have played this season they have won three of them, but lost all of them against the spread. Against the Yellow Jackets they were 9 ½-point picks and only won by three. Against Central Arkansas they were giving away 27 1/2 points and needed overtime to squeak out a five-point victory.
They were even bigger favorites against South Carolina State at a minus-37 and won by 28.
Ball’s Father Providing Distraction
When the trio was arrested in China they were looking at a possible 10-year prison sentence but President Trump, who was in the midst of a 12-day Asian trip, interceded with President Xi Jinping of China. He later tweeted about his actions.
“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
They did at a press conference later that day, but one person who didn’t seem to appreciate the assistance was Ball’s father, LaVar. He has been critical of Trump and went on CNN Monday to elaborate on his criticism.
“If you help, you shouldn’t have to say anything,” he said. “Somebody told me about the tweet a couple days ago … why is that on your mind? All this stuff going on, and that’s on your mind, that a father didn’t say thank you? And you’re the head of the U.S.? Come on.”
While the two have been battling in the media, Alford has said it won’t affect his team. The coach had Lonzo Ball on his team and said his father never interfered and he expects the same with his middle son.