Pac-12 road sweep continues to elude Steve Alford after loss at Cal

In his short career as UCLA head coach, Steve Alford has led the team through seven Pac-12 road trips. The Bruins have yet to sweep a single one.

Their latest stumble might have been their most costly, a 64-62 loss at Cal that followed arguably the best three-game stretch of the season — one that moved them into a third-place conference tie. After knocking off then-No. 11 Utah, Colorado and Stanford, UCLA fell to a Bears squad that needed a 3-pointer at the beat last-place USC.

Here are the good things that happened: the Bruins (14-10, 6-5) took advantage of Cal’s soft interior, and fed Tony Parker for 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting; Kevon Looney tweaked the right hip he rehabbed this past offseason, but only sat out for about five minutes and finished with his 12th double-double of the season; in a road environment, UCLA kept the game close for the entire second half.

Here are the bad: the Bruins turned the ball over early, against a team that ranks among the worst in college basketball at forcing turnovers; their offense looked gassed again to end a second straight game; they gave up a bevy of 3-point shots, including two that cost them the game.

On Thursday, UCLA held off Stanford despite going without a field goal in the final five minutes. Two days later, the Bruins’ offense showed more late flourish — taking a five-point lead on Parker’s dunk with less than four minutes left on the game clock. Cal responded with Jabari Bird’s 3-pointer, but Norman Powell’s layup pushed the cushion back to four points at 1:32.

But UCLA didn’t score again. As back-to-back threes by Bird and Dwight Tarwater pushed the Bears to a two-point lead, the Bruins missed another layup (Powell) and the front end of a one-and-one at the line (Looney). Alford called a timeout with 16 seconds left, plenty of time to generate a good shot. The ball went to Powell, driving in for a contested jumper near the baseline. It missed.

Point guard Bryce Alford threw up a last-ditch running 3-pointer, bouncing it harmlessly off the rim and backboard. The Bruins made just one of their final six shots.

Even accounting for the final few plays, the game might have turned out differently if UCLA hadn’t looked so out of sorts to start. Against a Cal defense that ranked fourth-to-last in the country in forcing turnovers, the Bruins mustered just three assists against seven turnovers before the break. Too often, the first-half offense looked like a string of isolation plays, with the Bruins taking turns dribbling while they looked for holes. Once in a while, there was movement, including Bryce Alford hitting Parker in stride for a layup — but such moments were few and far in between.

And yet, the visitors only trailed 32-28 at halftime, thanks to Cal’s own offensive drought. The Bears only sank 2 of 10 to end the first period, including a tip-in at the buzzer by Jordan Mathews.

But by the end of the game, enough of those shots did go in, especially from downtown. Cal shot only 38 percent from the field to UCLA’s 46 percent, but heaved up 26 shots from beyond the arc — the most the Bears had attempted in any game this season. Nine went in, including three by reserve guard Sam Singer. Singer made his first five shots — all in the second half — and finished with 13 of Cal’s 17 bench points.

Off the opposite bench, Thomas Welsh hit a jumper midway through the second half. It was the only basket that any Bruin reserve made in the Bay Area.