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February 22, 2014

Wear twins helping lift UCLA on late run

UCLA's twin senior forwards, David and Travis Wear, have been bounced around a few times in their college careers, but they have settled nicely into first-year head coach Steve Alford's system as their final Pac-12 regular season comes down to the home stretch.

The Wear twins, whose college basketball careers began at North Carolina, had a pair of good seasons under former head coach Ben Howland after redshirting a year, but they weren't quite as the hype had advertised.

Nonetheless, having both fine-tuned their jumpers in their junior season and gradually improved on the defensive end, the Wears were slated for stellar senior seasons.

However, a change in offensive schemes with a new head coach left the Wears out of place. Instead of looking for shots in the post as they did under Howland, the Wears now had to focus on taking shots in transition and moving more frequently off the ball to try to create their own shots.

That sudden shift jolted the 6-foot-10 forwards from Huntington Beach, Calif., and rendered them in a bizarre limbo on the court.

But now, as UCLA winds down the Pac-12 regular season, it seems as though the Wears have finally found their place on this Bruins team and are playing a key role for the team as it chases its second consecutive regular-season conference title.

Travis, who was sidelined for the first three games of the season as he recovered from an appendectomy, has found a comfortable spot in UCLA's offense in the past six games after only averaging 4.1 points in the Bruins' first seven conference games.

During the past game six-game stretch, he has been much more aggressive on the offense end, and it's being paying off for the Bruins. He's averaged 10.7 points per game at a 65-percent clip during that period, finishing in double figures in all but two games.

With Travis and a handful of other Bruins like top scorer Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson carrying UCLA's offense, David has found his niche in a less glamorous but equally important area: defense.

David's defensive efforts typically aren't reflected in his stat line, as he isn't much of shot-blocker, but they can be discovered when examining the opposing team's box score.

During UCLA's recent four-game winning streak, David has helped UCLA-alongside brother Travis and reserve forward Tony Parker-hold eight of the opposing team's 11 starting frontcourt players to single-digit scoring efforts.

The Wears' defensive prowess was particularly impressive against Colorado's Josh Scott in UCLA's recent home win over the Buffaloes.

Scott unleashed on the Bruins in the paint and scored a game-high 13 points in the first half, which allowed Colorado to stake a four-point lead at the half.

However, the Wears made the proper defensive adjustment on Scott in the second half and limited him to seven points in the second half, including only one field goal in the last 15 minutes of UCLA's eventual 18-point blowout win.

"Travis is healthy and feeling good about himself again, and that's made a big difference. Both of 'em are doing so much for us. … [These are] two 6-10 guys [who] can guard the post but they can also go out on the perimeter and defend and that's really helped us," Alford said.

"With our versatility defensively, whether we're man or zone, we haven't had a lot of matchup issues this year. … They have really been good defenders for us and I think that's helped us take our game to the next level because of what they've been doing defensively."

While it has taken some time for the Wears to adjust to an entirely new system, they've established themselves as pillars supporting this Bruins squad, upholding its balance.

UCLA's defensive continuity, maintained by the Wears, and its recent offensive revitalization have made the Bruins nearly unstoppable. They've won their last four conference games by an average margin of 15.5 points.

"They're rebounding; they're making a ton of shots. … They're good passing big men; they don't turn it over; they shoot well; they make foul shots," Alford praised.

With only five games remaining in the regular season and within one game of first-place in the Pac-12, the Bruins look to bank on their momentum to overcome a hurdle that has prevented the team from topping first-place Arizona in the standings.

In both of its previous conference road trips, UCLA has dropped the second game, both to teams with losing records (Utah, Oregon State).

On Saturday afternoon, the Bruins will play the hindmost game of a two-game road trip against Stanford in Maples Pavilion.

Entering the matchup, the Bruins hope the disappointment is behind them and the balance they've achieved with key contributions from players like David and Travis Wear will remain intact.


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