Published January 31, 2017
One game into the season and plenty is unknown about Cal State Northridge and No. 16 UCLA, but one element of both teams is certain as they prepare to play Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern time at Pauley Pavilion.
Both teams can light up the scoreboard with efficient scorers. UCLA and Northridge combined to score 215 points in their respective season-openers on Friday night.
The Bruins defeated Pacific 119-80 behind a school-record 18 3-pointers and 29 assists. Northridge beat Pomona-Pitzer 96-72 with four players scoring at least 15 points, led by Washington transfer Darin Johnson, a junior guard who had 20 points and seven rebounds.
UNLV transfer Kendall Smith, a junior guard in his second year at Northridge, contributed 17 points for coach Reggie Theus, a former Running Rebels star under Jerry Tarkanian who is engineering a run-and-gun offense in his fourth season.
"It's nice to be deep as we are because you can get different guys in the game," said Theus, whose roster includes eight transfers from other Division I institutions, including his son Reggie Theus Jr. from South Carolina.
Nine Matadors made their debut for Northridge, including Theus' son, Johnson, Connecticut transfer Rakim Lubim and Texas A&M transfer Dylan Johns.
UCLA coach Steve Alford expressed concern over a quick turnaround from Friday's game preparing for an experienced Northridge team.
"We're playing a really good opponent that had a lot of transfers sitting out last year," Alford said. "It's a seasoned team we're playing Sunday."
The Bruins do not have as much college experience as Northridge, but they have dynamic freshmen in guard Lonzo Ball and wing T.J. Leaf. Ball had a near-triple double against Pacific with 19 points, eight rebounds and a game-high 11 assists (with only one turnover) while Leaf contributed 22 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
"They are unselfish guys," Alford said of his freshmen standouts. "I'm more impressed with them as young men than I am as basketball players, and I think they are very good players."
UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford was one shy of his career record with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range. Reserve point guard Aaron Holiday, who started all 32 games as a freshman last year, had 18 points with five assists and no turnovers.
"We just had a lot of really good things that took place," Alford said. "We want to be a team that will stretch the floor because we have that ability. We have zero (personnel) issues. The culture has been terrific."
Northridge has the confidence it can run with the Bruins after posting 20 fast-break points and 50 points in the paint against Pomona-Pitzer. The Matadors were not as potent from behind the 3-point line as UCLA, making 8 of 17, but Smith and Johnson were each 4 of 5 from that range.
"We are going to have to play a lot better basketball to beat UCLA," Theus said. "We are going to watch a little bit of the film. It's a great challenge for us to go up to Pauley Pavilion. I'm looking forward to that."