With just nine regular-season games left, UCLA is still hovering below .500 in conference play. Needing a few more emphatic wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins take their next step on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at USC.
Head coach Steve Alford talked on Tuesday about the matchup. A few notes:
» UCLA shook up its starting lineup this past Saturday, playing forward Jonah Bolden ahead of senior Tony Parker in an 83-50 win over Washington State. Bolden seems likely to keep that spot, with Parker continuing to man the backup center position instead of playing next to sophomore Thomas Welsh in a “big-big” frontcourt.
“We played well last game doing that,” Alford said. “I don’t think it’s always going to be etched in stone as to who that is, but I don’t see any changes.”
» Alford lost to USC for the first time on Jan. 13, with his Bruins devolving on defense. Looking back on that 14-point loss, the third-year coach pointed out that the Trojans scored 13 points off of “50-50 balls,” as well as 16 second-chance points.
“When you fuel their transition game by mistakes that you make, that makes it really, really difficult,” Alford said.
USC represents the type of athletic, up-tempo team that has troubled UCLA all season, and offers a good test for just how much Bolden’s presence will improve the Bruins’ defense.
» Reserve forward Alex Olesinski is doubtful to play at USC after spraining his ankle in Saturday’s win over Washington State. The team is hoping to have him back for its trip to Arizona and Arizona State next weekend.
» Alford said that he wants to try and get Isaac Hamilton to the line a little bit more, but is otherwise satisfied with the junior guard’s offensive production.
Hamilton has been UCLA’s most consistent offensive threat this season, ranking second in the Pac-12 with 18.4 points per game in conference play. However, he has only attempted 57 free throws, fourth on the team behind Bryce Alford (117), Tony Parker (110), and Aaron Holiday (76).