UCLA’s loss to Oregon State sets up rematch with USC

UCLA lost their fourth straight game on Saturday, an ugly 86-82 decision against Oregon State that came despite the Beavers being without starting forward Tres Tinkle.

The Bruins finished the regular season with a 15-16 record and 6-12 in the Pac-12 — their worst conference mark since 2002-03, which was the final year of the Steve Lavin era. This loss also sets up a rematch in the Pac-12 Tournament against seventh-seeded USC.

No. 10-seed UCLA, which has already lost twice to the Trojans by 33 combined points, will tip off against its crosstown rival again on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

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Can UCLA basketball’s defense keep up with faster teams?

The UCLA men's basketball team has struggled on defense this season, particularly against up-tempo teams. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

The UCLA men’s basketball team has struggled on defense this season, particularly against up-tempo teams. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

After a comfortable win at Oregon State on Wednesday, Steve Alford said that UCLA finally “guarded the way that we wanted to guard.” Can the Bruins keep it up?

Both Alford and his players have explained the team’s defensive struggles with terms like “energy” and “demeanor” — suggesting that the problem has less to do with matchups than willpower and focus. But there’s another factor that could help clarify UCLA’s inconsistency: pace of play.

Against teams that rank top-100 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical rankings, the Bruins have a 2-6 record. Against teams below that, they are 10-1, with the lone loss coming to Washington State.

As for the Beavers? They were the slowest opponent UCLA has faced this season, clocking in at No. 263 with 67.5 possessions per 40 minutes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bruins have an average scoring margin of -5.5 against teams that average at least 71.0 possessions per 40. When it faces teams that average less than 70.0 possessions, UCLA is cruising along at +7.6 — a figure that doesn’t even factor in their 32-point win over CSUN.

This obviously isn’t a perfect measure, but the data at least echoes how the Bruins’ transition defense has looked according to the eye test. It also helps explain how the team convincingly upset Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Arizona.

Fortunately for UCLA, most of the Pac-12 isn’t running at a breakneck pace. Washington is far and away the leader, ranking fifth in the NCAA at 78.0 possessions. Next in the league is USC, which ranks No. 45 with 72.8.

No one else is even in the top 100. Oregon and Colorado both average 70.3 possessions, just 0.1 behind the Bruins, while Stanford rounds out the league down at 67.1.

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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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UCLA forward Gyorgy Goloman ready for full workload after injury

UCLA’s Gyorgy Goloman has barely played as a sophomore, having lost the first half of the season to a leg injury. According to Steve Alford, the 6-foot-11 forward will be shouldering a much heavier workload moving forward — starting with tonight’s 8 p.m. tipoff at Oregon State.

“No limits now,” said the Bruins’ third-year coach.

Goloman had been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right leg back in October, and his recovery took longer than the team had initially expected. He was only cleared for six to eight minutes in his season debut against USC last week, and ended up seeing the floor for two minutes in what turned out to be an 89-75 loss at Pauley Pavilion.

ANALYSIS: Why have the Bruins struggled so much on defense?

While he may not contribute big numbers — having averaged just 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in 10.8 minutes off the bench last year — his presence gives the Bruins more lineup flexibility, with the length to position himself at the top of the team’s zone defense.

“He’s got the basketball IQ,” Alford said of Goloman. “He understands positioning. I’m hoping that helps, because we’re struggling with the understanding of positioning, being in the right position, and doing it consistently enough.

“We’ll get a stop or two, and then we’ll have three times where they score. … Those things just can’t happen. You’ve got to have the demeanor of a team where, if someone scores two times in a row on you, stop it.”

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