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Prized freshmen meet in UCLA-UC Riverside game

UC Riverside-UCLA preview

Two teams with promising young freshmen will meet Wednesday when 11th-ranked UCLA puts its perfect record on the line against UC Riverside at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

UCLA (7-0) won three games in four days last week to win the Wooden Legacy tournament. The Bruins beat Portland 99-77 in the opening round, defeated Nebraska 82-71 in the semifinals and topped Texas A&M 74-67 in the championship game.

UC Riverside (1-3) opened the season with double-digit losses to Portland and UNLV. The Highlanders beat Division II Fresno Pacific 96-50 before suffering an 85-67 loss to Utah.

Freshman guard Lonzo Ball was named MVP of the Wooden tournament after averaging 15.7 points, 9.3 assists and four rebounds for UCLA. He also picked up his first-ever Pac-12 Player of the Week award.

Ball had 18 points and 11 assists in the win over Portland, and he had 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds against Texas A&M despite struggling at times in the first half.

"I think that's what great players do," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "We call it 'etch-a-sketch.' You miss a couple shots (and) you have to forget about it. You make a couple bad plays, you have to forget about it. ... He made tremendous plays, and I thought he played way better second half."

UC Riverside coach Dennis Cutts is happy with what he has seen from freshman guard Dikymbe Martin. After scoring a total of nine points in 24 minutes in the first two games, Martin has emerged, posting 41 points, 10 assists and seven steals in the past two games.

Martin came off the bench to post 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting in a win over Fresno Pacific on Nov. 19. Martin made his first career start against Utah in place of Malik Thames, who was home in Sacramento due to an illness in his family. Martin didn't disappoint, finishing with 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

"He's a unique freshman in terms of constantly looking for how he can do things better," Cutts said. "He doesn't ever kind of give the sense that he's got it figured out."

The Highlanders will have to figure out how to defend UCLA, which scored 99 points or more in four of its first five games. The Bruins are leading the nation in field-goal percentage (54.7) and assists per game (24.1). They are third in scoring, averaging 96.9 points per game.

UCLA has six players scoring in double figures. T.J. Leaf, another promising freshman, averages 17.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest. Bryce Alford averages 17 points, Isaac Hamilton 16.7, Aaron Holiday 12.1 and Thomas Welsh 10.6.

Martin is leading UC Riverside in scoring at 12.5 points per game. Thames averages 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds. Chance Murray is averaging 12 points.

UCLA is 4-0 all-time against UC Riverside. The Bruins beat the Highlanders 77-66 in their last meeting in December 2014. This will be UCLA's final tune-up before the team visits top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday.
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