Steve Alford: Center Tony Parker will stay in UCLA’s starting lineup

Tony Parker returned to UCLA’s starting lineup last Saturday, helping the Bruins to a 77-53 win over Colorado. The senior center will keep that role for at least one more game.

Steve Alford said Tuesday that he will keep the 6-foot-9 Parker in his starting five for Thursday’s 6 p.m. tipoff at Cal — relegating 7-foot sophomore Thomas Welsh to the bench. The third-year head coach emphasized that his changes over the last month have not been made to penalize either player.

“Whether it’s Tony or Tom, it’s not a discipline or punishment standpoint,” Alford said.

He added that he is also open to playing both Parker and Welsh together again in a “big-big” lineup if the matchup proves beneficial. The combination, which UCLA used for most of the season before making sophomore Jonah Bolden its starting power forward, gave the team some offensive advantages at the cost of its defense.

Regardless of who Alford plays, he’ll need to figure out how to beat a Cal team that is 16-0 at Haas Pavilion this season. The Bears hold opponents to just 38.8 percent from the field, easily the lowest mark in the Pac-12, and also rank first in the conference in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. Alford praised their athleticism and their size, pointing out the presence of star freshman Ivan Rabb as well as 7-footers Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh.

“They really just tee it up one-on-one and say, ‘You’re not gonna beat us one-on-one,'” Alford said. “That’s a great thing to have, because you don’t see them having to help a lot. And because they don’t help a lot, they don’t give up a lot of open looks. They make open looks hard on you.”