VIDEO: UCLA coach Steve Alford on USC rivalry, Bruins’ outlook

With just nine regular-season games left, UCLA is still hovering below .500 in conference play. Needing a few more emphatic wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins take their next step on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at USC.

Head coach Steve Alford talked on Tuesday about the matchup. A few notes:

» UCLA shook up its starting lineup this past Saturday, playing forward Jonah Bolden ahead of senior Tony Parker in an 83-50 win over Washington State. Bolden seems likely to keep that spot, with Parker continuing to man the backup center position instead of playing next to sophomore Thomas Welsh in a “big-big” frontcourt.

“We played well last game doing that,” Alford said. “I don’t think it’s always going to be etched in stone as to who that is, but I don’t see any changes.”

» Alford lost to USC for the first time on Jan. 13, with his Bruins devolving on defense. Looking back on that 14-point loss, the third-year coach pointed out that the Trojans scored 13 points off of “50-50 balls,” as well as 16 second-chance points.

“When you fuel their transition game by mistakes that you make, that makes it really, really difficult,” Alford said.

USC represents the type of athletic, up-tempo team that has troubled UCLA all season, and offers a good test for just how much Bolden’s presence will improve the Bruins’ defense. Continue reading

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UCLA earns first Pac-12 road win in 82-73 decision at Oregon State

UCLA hasn’t solved all its defensive woes, but Wednesday night was a step in the right direction.

The Bruins broke through at Oregon State, earning an 82-73 victory that marked their first conference road win of the season. They did so by holding the Beavers to under 40 percent shooting for much of the game, and trailing for just 74 seconds at Gill Coliseum.

The win moved Steve Alford to 8-13 in Pac-12 road games. The third-year coach is still looking for his first conference sweep away from Pauley Pavilion — something that could happen as soon as Saturday at Oregon.

“I think it’s been all over everywhere that we’re giving up 86 points per game in Pac-12 play,” Alford said. “They know that. It’s starting to affect them a little bit and hurt them. And that’s good.”

Junior Isaac Hamilton led UCLA (12-7, 3-3) with 25 points in one of his most efficient outings of the season. The 6-foot-4 guard made 10 of his 14 shots from the floor, including half of his six attempts from beyond the arc. After an inconsistent sophomore season, the former five-star recruit has blossomed into the Bruins’ most consistent offensive threat, scoring in double figures in 15 straight games. Against Pac-12 opponents, he is averaging 19.5 points on 48.9 percent shooting. Continue reading

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USC’s recent rise bodes well for matchup against UCLA, Bruins say

UCLA is only a 2.5-point favorite heading into tonight’s 8 p.m. tipoff against USC at Pauley Pavilion, but the Trojans’ surprising 3-1 start in conference play seems to have the Bruins smiling too.

“You don’t want to play cupcakes,” point guard Bryce Alford said. “We’re not saying they were ever a cupcake. But we like that they’re getting better.”

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UNC 89, UCLA 76: Steve Alford, Tony Parker, Isaac Hamilton

UCLA’s five-game winning streak ended on Saturday in an 89-76 loss to No. 11 North Carolina. The Bruins ran out an early lead in Brooklyn thanks to some hot 3-point shooting, but their turnover habit allowed the Tar Heels to tie the game before the break.

While beating Kentucky and Gonzaga still puts UCLA ahead of the curve in its nonconference schedule, its second half against UNC exposed some of its flaws. The No. 22 Bruins struggled to defend in transition, giving up a final tally of 14 fast-break points. And, with Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh both getting into foul trouble, 6-foot-10 forward Brice Johnson erupted for 27 points — making 11 shots in a row after missing his first attempt.

UCLA finished with only 11 assists against 17 turnovers, which led to 24 points for North Carolina.

***
STEVE ALFORD: I’m really proud of our guys. We have had a really good stretch. We’ve shown growth and improvement. I thought we did that again in the first half of this game. We did a nice job in a lot of areas. We just had two glaring weakness today. That was turnovers, which we’ve done a really good job in the past two weeks of limiting turnovers. We had too many turnovers and we just couldn’t get stops in transition.

This is a really good basketball team. It’s got a lot of experience, a lot of seniors, depth, big. They’re just really good and really talented. I appreciate how our guys fought. We’ve shown growth in the past two and a half weeks. What this game proves is that there’s still a lot of growth to go. Hopefully, that’s the message our guys can get out of it.

We have one more non-league game. We take a little break. Then, we come back and have about eight days before we start a very difficult league. We’ve got the better part of two weeks to continue that growth. Hopefully, our guys see that.

Q. For Tony, what do you think the impact was of you getting the four fouls and not playing very much for quite a stretch there in the second half? Because it seemed like that was where they really attacked the basket.

TONY PARKER: It was huge. It was big. I let my teammates down. That was just — foul trouble cannot be a problem in this game, and it was. It really hurt us in the second half.

Q. How tough was it to stop when Brice Johnson was pulling, especially in the final 4:27, he had 11 shots? How was that?

PARKER: He runs well. When you’re in foul trouble, you tend to be less aggressive. Me and Tom just got to stay aggressive and keep our bodies moving. I think that’s where he got us. We stopped moving on a lot of plays and cross screens. We’ve got to stay active and keep moving because he’s a very active player. Continue reading

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