Less than two weeks ago, Steve Alford publicly held on to hope. He talked about UCLA’s ability to make a late run, to bolster a resume that had become thinner and thinner since the turn of the new year.
Now, finally, the Bruins seem to have run out of time. A 79-70 loss at Stanford on Saturday clinched them a losing conference record — just the fourth time this has happened in the post-Wooden era. All four occurrences have come in the last 14 years.
UCLA’s path to an NCAA Tournament berth will almost certainly require them to win the Pac-12 Tournament. Judging from the type of basketball these Bruins (15-14, 6-10) have played as of late, however, and that seems like a Sisyphean task.
At Maples Pavilion, UCLA showed little sign that it can fix the problems that have haunted the team all season. It allowed the Cardinal to shoot 61.2 percent from the field, their highest mark of the season. Only one other Pac-12 team — Oregon — had allowed Stanford to clear even 48 percent.
Much of the damage was done inside. Sophomore forward Michael Humphrey scored 24 points, just two points shy of the career high he set against Washington State earlier this month. The 6-foot-9 big man helped give Stanford a 32-18 scoring edge in the paint, corralling four of his team’s nine offensive boards.
UCLA's post-game locker room remained closed for a while. “The team is kind of a lost cause right now," Bryce Alford said, when he emerged.
— Zach Helfand (@zhelfand) February 28, 2016
UCLA, on the other hand, stayed within striking distance thanks in large part to their efficiency from beyond the arc. With 6:22 left on the game clock, point guard Bryce Alford hit a 3-pointer that cut the Bruins’ deficit to 64-62. At that point, they were 10 of 19 from long range, accounting for nearly half of their made field goals. They proceeded to miss their last four attempts.
Alford shook off his road shooting slump, finishing with 20 points, while fellow guard Isaac Hamilton and center Thomas Welsh chipped in 19 and 11, respectively. No one else cracked double digits.
Senior Tony Parker, whom Steve Alford recently moved into the starting lineup in an attempt to spark his performance, didn’t score his first bucket until more than halfway through the second half. He only grabbed three rebounds in 19 minutes, and shot 4 of 10 from the free throw line.
After being billed as a key piece for the Bruins heading into his final collegiate season, the 6-foot-9 former McDonald’s All-American has yet to truly blossom. After recording six double-doubles in his first nine games of the season, he is averaging just under 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game — essentially duplicating his numbers from a year ago.