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. Continue reading

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UCLA hangs on at Stanford, moves into third place in Pac-12

UCLA played stretches of good basketball and stretches of bad basketball, and bits of basketball that hung on little more than good fortune.

Somehow, it added up to a 69-67 win at Stanford on Thursday night, the Bruins’ first outside of Los Angeles since Thanksgiving weekend.

It was a victory that moved UCLA (14-9, 6-4) into third-place tie in the Pac-12, and one that represented the team’s first significant road win of the season. It was also one that saw the Bruins — who attacked and defended well through the middle swath of the game — melt down in the final minutes, going without a field goal after 5:19 after leading by as much as 22 points.

The Cardinal (15-7, 6-4) had a chance to win on Chasson Randle’s desperation heave at the buzzer but it clanked off, leaving Arizona and Utah looking like the only teams in the conference locked into NCAA tournament berths.

UCLA took control of the game late in the first half, and stayed in the driver’s seat for several minutes. The Bruins took its first double-digit lead with 4:57 left in the opening period, having gone on a 10-2 run in just over two minutes. They also held the Cardinal scoreless for well over five minutes, their zone scheme flustering the home squad. Continue reading

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At a glance: UCLA at Stanford

UCLA Bruins (13-9, 5-4) vs. Stanford Cardinal (15-6, 6-3)
Tipoff: Thursday, Feb. 5, 6:05 p.m., Maples Pavilion
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Fleming, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: UCLA has won just one game outside of Los Angeles this season. Notching a victory at Stanford tonight would help preserve what slim chances at the NCAA tournament the Bruins have left.

Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, but the Cardinal would probably be the runner-up. (UCLA has better top-end talent, but Stanford has more depth.) Head coach Johnny Dawkins saved his job with a Sweet 16 run last season, and was also rewarded with what has been a Pac-12 Player of the Year type of season from Chasson Randle. The senior is a score-first guard, but he fills that role well and is scoring 20.8 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting. He also hits more than 40 percent from beyond the arc, and is averaging 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Randle is also accompanied by fellow sharpshooters in Anthony Brown and Rosco Allen, both of whom can light it up from outside. UCLA did a poor job defending the perimeter, which seems to trace back to a philosophical flaw in Steve Alford’s playbook. The second-year head coach said last season that he isn’t as concerned with allowing 3-point attempts versus easy shots in the paint. That makes the Bruins susceptible to teams that get hot from downtown. Continue reading

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Norman Powell earns second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor

In the midst of a career stretch, UCLA’s Norman Powell has been named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second time this season.

The senior guard has scored 68 points on 56.1 percent shooting in his last three games, the first time that he has ever strung together three consecutive efforts of at least 20 points. He did this by rediscovering his penchant for attacking the lane — scoring efficiently despite hitting just one of six 3-pointers during the same stretch.

Still the Bruins’ best on-ball defender, he totaled seven steals in wins over Utah and Colorado, as well as nine rebounds and five assists.

Powell had been previously named the conference’s weekly MVP on Nov. 24, after he combined to score 47 points in wins over Nicholls State and Long Beach State. Freshman forward Kevon Looney also won Pac-12 Player of the Week on Jan. 12, making UCLA the only school to have three such honors this season.

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UCLA 72, Colorado 59: Steve Alford talks about Bruins’ ‘next step’

UCLA beat Colorado easily on Saturday night, finishing off a 72-59 decision that didn’t look as close as the final score. The Bruins have only lost one game at home this season, but have only won once outside of Los Angeles in nine tries.

“That’s the next step that this team’s got to do,” Alford said.

The Bruins visit Stanford on Thursday and Cal on Saturday, both of whom they were able to beat at Pauley Pavilion this month.

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At a glance: UCLA vs. Colorado

UCLA Bruins (12-9, 4-4) vs. Colorado Buffaloes (11-9, 4-4)
Tipoff: Saturday, Jan. 31, 7:35 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Roxy Bernstein, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: Colorado is one of several teams jostling around the middle of the Pac-12, and are thus unsurprisingly pedestrian in most statistical categories — although it is the best in the conference at keeping opponents off the free throw line. Conversely, it is third-to-last in forcing turnovers.

Big man Josh Scott has been sidelined for a month with a back injury, and did not travel to Los Angeles. When healthy, he is Colorado’s most efficient scorer. Forward Wesley Gordon has stepped in to fill the rebounding void, and is averaging 11.5 boards in his last four games.

The Buffaloes haven’t beaten a team ranked top-100 in RPI except UCLA.

The Bruins just notched their biggest win of the season in Thursday night’s 69-59 upset of No. 11 Utah. One major victory isn’t enough to change the course of the season, but UCLA looks like a team that can conceivably clean out the rest of its home schedule — especially given that they don’t host Arizona this year.

Norman Powell entered his senior season as the presumptive leader of Steve Alford’s team, but hasn’t become the dominant go-to option the team had hoped for. Although he’s become a better 3-point shooter overall, he’s only hit one of his last 16 attempts from beyond the arc (over five games). Continue reading

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UCLA 69, Utah 59: Steve Alford talks about Bruins’ biggest win yet

Head coach Steve Alford talked after UCLA’s 69-59 win over No. 11 Utah, easily the Bruins’ biggest win of the season and their first against a ranked opponent.

Key to the upset was senior guard Norman Powell, who scored a game-high 23 points and opened scoring with a steal and a fast-break layup. He also helped hold Utes point guard Delon Wright to four first-half points.

“He’s a senior and he made a lot of big plays for us tonight,” Alford said. “As a senior, when you get that kind of leadership, guys are going to follow. I thought it was even more than Norman. it was a tremendous team effort. Everyone trusted each other.”

Full game story here.

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