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.”

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Recapping UCLA’s 40-24 win over No. 20 Cal

UCLA snapped its two-game losing streak on Thursday by beating a higher-ranked team for the fifth time in its four years under Jim Mora. Here’s our coverage from the Bruins’ 40-24 win over No. 20 Cal at the Rose Bowl.

» UCLA still has tough climb ahead in the Pac-12 South race, but delivered an encouraging performance after back-to-back losses.
» In what was expected to be an exciting quarterback duel, UCLA’s true freshman Josh Rosen came out on top.
» Mark Whicker’s column on UCLA’s solid defensive showing against the Bears.

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UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn having a stellar senior season

Jim Mora was ready to try a Hail Mary.

With just three seconds left in the first half against No. 20 Cal on Thursday, UCLA had backed itself up five yards with a false start. The 55-yard field goal that Ka’imi Fairbairn just hit? It didn’t count.

So faced with trying an incredible 60-yard attempt, the fourth-year head coach figured he had a better chance at airing out a 42-yard pass. Backup quarterback and holder Jerry Neuheisel disagreed.

“Jerry said, ‘No, he’s got it. He’s got it. Just kick it again,'” Mora said. “I asked him at halftime, ‘How’d you know?’ He said, ‘I heard the boom of the ball on the 55-yarder. I knew he’d strike it.'”

Indeed. The senior booted the ball through the uprights from 60 yards away, sending it past the band and nearly into the stands. It easily broke the school record of 56 yards, set in 1997 by Chris Sailer.

Sailer is now best known as the preeminent expert in special teams recruiting, running a camp that helps develop kickers and punters hoping to earn scholarships. Fairbairn was one such pupil, traveling to Las Vegas to learn back in 2011. Continue reading “UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn having a stellar senior season” »

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