Getting bounced out of the First Four a year after a Sweet 16 appearance. Losing three players as the result of a shoplifting incident in China. Having the Pac-12 scoring leader leave early as a first-round draft pick.

UCLA couldn’t hit the reset button fast enough.

Even with Aaron Holiday off to the NBA, the 21st-ranked Bruins are loaded with talent and expectations are once again high in Westwood.

Coach Steve Alford got some good news when Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Cody Riley all decided to return after testing the NBA draft waters. Alford recruited another top class to go with them, and despite some early injuries the Bruins figure to be in the league’s top tier.

UCLA will have to replace Holiday’s 20.3-point scoring average. He also led the team in assists with a 5.8 average.

FILE – In this Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, file photo, UCLA guard Jaylen Hands advances the ball up court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, in Tucson, Ariz. Guards Hands and Kris Wilkes and forward Cody Riley withdrew their names from NBA draft consideration to return to Kansas for the 2018-19 season. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)

That’s where Wilkes and Hands come in.

Wilkes earned All-Pac-12 freshman honors as the team’s second-leading scorer (13.7) and rebounder (4.9) while shooting 44 percent. Hands was second on the team in assists (81) and steals (30) as a freshman. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.0 rebounds.

“They’ve both gained weight, they both have gotten stronger. Defensively they’ve got a different mindset,” Alford said. “When you look across the country and you start looking at next year’s draft, I think both of these guys are potential first-round picks.”

Hands figures to run the show offensively as he works to develop into UCLA’s next standout guard.

“I think he’s still going to be one of our better scorers because he shoots the ball, he scores it well,” Alford said. “Kris has a chance to be one of the top scorers in this league.”

FILE – In this Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, file photo, UCLA guard Kris Wilkes (13) shoots during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington in Los Angeles. Guards Jaylen Hands and Wilkes and forward Cody Riley withdrew their names from NBA draft consideration to return to Kansas for the 2018-19 season. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

The Bruins were 21-12 overall and tied for third at 11-7 in Pac-12 play last season before losing to St. Bonaventure in the First Four.

With no seniors on the roster for the first time since 2010, the Bruins have six freshmen and four sophomores, making them one of the youngest teams in the country.

Here are some things to know about UCLA this season:

NEW MAN MOSES: Moses Brown, a 7-foot-1, 250-pound center, gives the Bruins an elite shot-blocker for the first time in Alford’s tenure. The freshman is an inch shorter than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who led the Bruins to 88 wins and three NCAA titles during his varsity career under coach John Wooden. They’re also both from New York. “For a guy that big, how he handles the ball and those types of things inside has been very impressive,” Alford said. Moses is one of eight players on the roster who are 6-8 or taller. He’s the tallest UCLA player since 7-7 Mike Lanier in 1992-93.

LOOKING FOR REDEMPTION: Forward-center Jalen Hill and guard Riley made unwelcome headlines when they were suspended all of last season for a shoplifting incident in China. The 6-10 redshirt freshmen will be options in the frontcourt along with Brown.

FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, file photo, UCLA head coach Steve Alford talks with officials during an NCAA college basketball game against Southern California, in Los Angeles. The Bruins don’t have a senior on the roster for the first time since 2010. Eight of their players are 6-8 or taller. Alford has been a solid recruiter and gotten his teams to the NCAA Tournament, but entering his sixth season in Westwood he’s still looking for a Pac-12 regular-season title. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker, File)

MISSING IN ACTION: The Bruins lost two key newcomers even before their first game. Forward Shareef O’Neal will be out the entire season because of a congenital heart defect that requires surgery. The son of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was expected to be a frontcourt presence alongside Brown. Also sitting out the season is guard Tyger Campbell, who has a torn ACL in his left knee.

PAC-12 RACE: The Bruins were picked by the media to finish second in the Pac-12, behind front-running Oregon and ahead of Washington. UCLA hasn’t won a regular-season conference crown since 2013, coach Ben Howland’s last year in Westwood. The Bruins’ last league tournament title came in 2014, Alford’s first season as coach.

EARLY SCHEDULE: The Bruins open the season against Fort Wayne on Nov. 6. They play eight of their first 10 games at Pauley Pavilion. Their nonconference schedule includes neutral site games against Michigan State and Ohio State, the resumption of a home-and-home series with Notre Dame after nine years, and a visit to Cincinnati.


Source: The Associated Press

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