UCLA links: Men’s basketball cruises to win in Australia

UCLA coach Steve Alford said this year's Bruins don't respond as well to "mental pressure" as last year's team. (David Crane/Staff)

UCLA coach Steve Alford praised his three freshmen after the Bruins blew out Sydney University in their exhibition game Tuesday. (David Crane/Staff)

Freshmen starred for the UCLA men’s basketball team in its 123-76 exhibition blowout victory over Sydney University on Tuesday.

UCLA’s trio of freshmen had 46 combined points with TJ Leaf leading the way with a team-high 21. Ike Anigbogu had 16 and Lonzo Ball had nine. Leaf added nine rebounds and Anigbogu had eight boards. Ball had four assists, two steals and two blocks.

“They were outstanding, all three of them – Ike, Lonzo and TJ,” head coach Steve Alford told UCLABruins.com. “We know what they can do. They came here in their first exhibition game and all three played very well.”

UCLA seniors Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford had 18 and 17 points, respectively.

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UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton makes All-Pac-12 second team

UCLA junior Isaac Hamilton earned an All-Pac-12 second-team nod on Monday. No Bruin made the first team for the first time since 2011-12. (Steve McCrank/Staff)

UCLA junior Isaac Hamilton earned an All-Pac-12 second-team nod on Monday. No Bruin made the first team for the first time since 2011-12. (Steve McCrank/Staff)

For the second time since conference expansion, no UCLA men’s basketball player made the All-Pac-12 first team.

Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins — who finished 10th in the league — with a second-team selection, while fellow junior guard Bryce Alford earned an honorable mention. Hamilton is the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer at 17.1 points per game and has hit double figures in 27 straight outings. The last UCLA player to hold a longer streak is former league MVP Kevin Love, who scored at least 10 points in all 39 games as a freshman in 2007-08.

The Bruins had produced five all-conference first-team picks in the last three years: Norman Powell, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Larry Drew II and Shabazz Muhammad. Lazeric Jones led UCLA with a second-team spot in 2011-12, the first season after Colorado and Utah joined what became the Pac-12.

The league has included 10 players in its first team since 1979-80, only departing from the tradition when it named three five-member teams in 2007-08.

Utah center Jakob Poeltl is the Pac-12 Player of the Year, while Oregon’s Dana Altman was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the third time in four years. He is the first to be named the conference’s top coach in consecutive seasons since Stanford’s Mike Montgomery 12 years ago. Oregon State guard Gary Payton II became the first-ever back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Colorado’s George King is the conference’s most improved player, while Utah’s Brandon Taylor was honored as the top scholar-athlete.

See the rest of the All-Pac-12 teams below. All awards are voted on by coaches, who cannot select themselves or their own players. Continue reading

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UCLA clinches fourth losing conference record in 14 years

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, on the other hand, stayed within striking distance thanks in large part to their efficiency from beyond the arc. Continue reading

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UCLA coach Steve Alford changes motivational tactics amid struggles

UCLA coach Steve Alford said this year's Bruins don't respond as well to "mental pressure" as last year's team. (David Crane/Staff)

UCLA coach Steve Alford said this year’s Bruins don’t respond as well to “mental pressure” as last year’s team. (David Crane/Staff)

As UCLA continues to hover near the bottom of the Pac-12, head coach Steve Alford said he’s had to adjust how he motivates his Bruins.

Recently, that’s meant fewer references to the big picture, one that has the team sitting uncomfortably outside almost every NCAA Tournament projection. With just three weeks left in his third regular season in Los Angeles, Alford said his latest group of players has not responded as well to pressure as their predecessors.

“That’s been me, not them,” he added. “Anytime I’ve applied a little bit of that mental pressure, we haven’t handled it well. It’s learning your team. Last year’s team handled that really well.”

After starting 2016 with back-to-back losses at Washington and Washington State, the Bruins (14-11, 5-7) have yet to move above .500 at any point in conference play. If that trend holds, it will be a first for the program since the league expanded to 10 teams in 1978.

But that’s exactly the sort of thing that Alford doesn’t want his team to think about. A year ago, stressing urgency worked for UCLA, something that the coach attributed in part to the presence of senior guard Norman Powell.

This season, the staff has learned that it’s better to steer the team’s focus in a different way. One difference is by integrating “three keys” for each game, so as to keep the Bruins from getting overloaded with information during game-week preparation.

“The way we respond to things, I think, is a little bit different,” said junior point guard Bryce Alford. “I think we’ve done a better job when our coaches give us a one-game scenario.”

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