Purdue Fort Wayne
at No. 21 UCLA
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: 1380 AM (in progress)
For the 10 new Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball players, their first official game as a Mastodon comes on the big stage. Coach Jon Coffman's team is in Los Angeles to take on No. 21 UCLA tonight to open the season.
“You grow up in college basketball and your dream as a coach and a player is to go to Pauley Pavilion and play with the tradition there,” Coffman said.
The programs have never met before, but Purdue Fort Wayne is no stranger to taking down top-tier programs, defeating No. 3 Indiana in overtime in 2016 and then again by 20 last season.
“This is one of the best times to sneak up and get a team like that,” redshirt junior Matt Holba said. “The general public doesn't think we'll come in there and beat them, but did they think we'd come in and beat IU, once? No. Did they think we were going to do it twice? Definitely no.”
Those wins are widely talked about because they're program-defining, Coffman said. He even told the new players on the team to study tape of the second half of both games.
“I want you to see the attack mentality that we showed in that game, and I want you to see the details,” Coffman told his team.
The Mastodons return senior guards Kason Harrell and John Konchar, both of whom played big roles in those wins and have experience playing against top Division I programs.
“It's a difference maker. Just having those guys (Harrell, Konchar), they're both great players,” Coffman said. “They've helped design our standards. I have no doubt that they'll put that out against UCLA.”
Steve Alford, former Manchester University coach and a member of IU's 1987 NCAA championship team, is in his sixth season with UCLA. Despite coming off its earliest NCAA Tournament exit in history and some questioning Alford's coaching, 247 Sports ranks UCLA's 2018 recruiting class No. 6 in the nation.
Three of the Bruins' freshmen, Moses Brown, David Singleton and Jules Bernard scored in double figures in UCLA's exhibition win over New York Institute of Technology.
“Their freshman class, they smashed the glass,” Coffman said.
Matchups might be an issue for Purdue Fort Wayne, as seven UCLA players stand 6-foot-8 or taller as opposed to just three for the Mastodons.
“They got a lot more height than us all across the floor, so we have to have a toughness,” Coffman said. “We're not going to get a lot of clean rebounds, it's going to be that tip, tip tip rebound.”
Holba and fellow redshirt junior Marcus DeBerry, who both started in the exhibition game last week, will probably start today. They sat out last season because of transfer rules (Holba from Lehigh and DeBerry from Northern Arizona), but Coffman speaks highly of the pair.
“He really shoots the basketball well and he has a great basketball IQ,” Coffman said of Holba. “I think he has a great being about him and he's got some juice about him.”
Coffman has made it clear that challenging themselves early in the season will help down the road. The Mastodons play UCLA, Ohio State and Dayton in the first 10 days of the season.
“If you stay comfortable you're never going to get better, and this is an opportunity for us to get better every day,” Coffman said.