A few weeks ago, Steve Alford offered his thoughts on UCLA’s lackluster 3-point defense. Sure, the Bruins allow plenty of attempts, but he’ll live with those as long as: 1) those shots aren’t easy ones, and 2) the interior is locked down.
“If I had my way, I’d just as soon teams shoot 30, 35 threes against us,” the coach said then.
On Saturday night, Washington State did its best to oblige. The Cougars heaved 29 shots from downtown, the most that any Pac-12 opponent has shot against the Bruins this season. That they only made 10 made little difference; WSU steamrolled UCLA in a 73-55 victory, giving fans at Beasley Coliseum something to cheer for near the end of a brutal season.
In some ways, the result was stunning. The Cougars were arguably the worst team in the league, and had not won a game since Feb. 1. Through Pac-12 play, they were dead last in scoring average (55.1), scoring margin (-14.1) and field goal percentage (36.8).
In others, it was utterly unsurprising. UCLA showed little fortitude on the road this season, losing the tail end of all four Pac-12 road trips. Though Alford has guided his team to a second-place finish in the conference, it has not inspired confidence in the possibility of a deep NCAA tournament run.
The Bruins opened the game on a 9-0 run, but looked lost once Wooden Award finalist Kyle Anderson headed to the bench with a pair of early fouls. They went without a field goal for nearly six minutes in the first half, then allowed WSU a 19-4 run nearing halftime.
Washington State hit 7-of-16 3-pointers in the first half, and entered the break with a comfortable 34-26 lead despite a quiet night from its leading scorer. DaVonte Lacy, second in the conference in points per game, finished with just one field goal, though he chipped in seven rebounds and two assists.
The bench filled the scoring void, outperforming its UCLA counterpart 22-5 in the first half. Reserve guards Ike Iroegbu, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Que Johnson combined for 38 total points on 12-of-20 shooting — including 8-of-14 from beyond the arc.
The Cougars regressed to the mean from long range later in the game, but it hardly mattered. They scored their first eight points of the second half on layups and free throws, and UCLA never got within single digits again. The Bruins shot just 33.3 percent from the field, easily their worst outing under Alford, and tied a conference-schedule low with 11 assists.
Anderson finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, but no other starter scored in double digits. Backup point guard Bryce Alford was the only other Bruin with at least 10 points, hitting the mark exactly on 2-of-8 shooting.
To make matters worse, Steve Alford said a day prior to tipoff that his main goal for this weekend was to prepare the team for the NCAA tournament — pointing out that the Thursday-to-Saturday turnaround from their win over Washington echoes the upcoming March Madness schedule. Not exactly a good omen.