UCLA clings onto NCAA hopes with 78-65 win at Arizona State

UCLA got a win it desperately needed on Sunday night. Now, it just needs to scratch out five or six more.

The Bruins injected a bit of life into their tepid NCAA tournament hopes in Tempe, closing out a 78-65 win over Arizona State — one of just two teams sitting below them in the Pac-12 standings. After weathering some hot shooting early on, they held ASU to 31 percent from the field in the second half. With 86 seconds left, Steve Alford felt comfortable enough to empty his bench.

Talent disparity or not, UCLA (13-11, 5-7) showed a few encouraging signs. Most crucial was the play of sophomore Jonah Bolden, who led the Bruins with a career-high 16 points. That’s no small feat, even considering his four-star pedigree. Heading into Valentine’s Day, the 6-foot-10 forward had averaged just 3.5 points per game in conference play.

Perhaps sharing the floor with Tony Parker has helped. The senior center is by no means a perfect player, but he nonetheless commands a healthy share of defensive attention. And in the last couple of games, Alford has become more willing to play Bolden next to Parker, rather than subbing out Bolden for sophomore Gyorgy Goloman. Continue reading

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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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Steve Alford: UCLA’s 83-50 win over WSU was best he’s seen

Steve Alford finally had something to smile about.

After watching his team lose three of its last four games, the UCLA head coach finally tinkered with his starting lineup. The result? An 83-50 win over Washington State, the Bruins’ largest margin of victory all season.

“Best 40 minutes we’ve had all year,” Alford said.

Stretch forward Jonah Bolden replaced senior big man Tony Parker to start the game, giving UCLA (13-9, 4-5) more flexibility on both offense and defense. Alford wouldn’t confirm that the change was permanent, but seemed disinclined to move back to the “big-big” lineup that the Bruins had used most of this year.

Instead of playing somewhat out of position at power forward, Parker moved to a backup center role behind sophomore Thomas Welsh. Welsh and Bolden essentially formed a first-string frontcourt platoon, while Parker played next to Gyorgy Goloman.

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