UCLA 72, WSU 67: Steve Alford talks about Bruins’ ‘gut-check’ win

Steve Alford called UCLA’s 72-67 win over Washington State a “gut-check” for his team, one that came when none of the pressure was on the ninth-place visitors. The Bruins trailed for nearly 25 minutes, and only led by three points with 15 seconds left.

“Sometimes a sloppy game can look sloppy because there are a lot of free throws,” he said, pointing out that UCLA had 31 attempts to WSU’s 12. “I’ve got to watch tape. We only have 11 turnovers on the night. That’s a low-turnover game again. Assists are down because we’re driving so hard. … There’s a lot of positives with this game.”

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At a glance: UCLA vs. Washington State

UCLA (17-12, 9-7) vs. Washington State (12-15, 6-9)
Sunday, March 1, 6:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: FOX Sports 1 (Kevin Burkhardt, Sean Elliott)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: With only Washington State and USC left on the regular-season schedule, there isn’t much that UCLA can do to improve its NCAA Tournament resume. Winning out will preserve the Bruins’ status on the bubble, while losing either game would end their chances at an at-large berth.

More in flux is the team’s positioning in the Pac-12 standings. UCLA is currently fifth in conference, but has a good chance to move into the top four and earn a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Bruins could even jump to third place if Oregon loses its last two games, which would allow them a potential semifinal matchup against Utah rather than Arizona.

But for now, the Cougars. Washington State has made incremental steps forward in its first season under Ernie Kent, but it is also the most inept defensive team in the conference. Scoring 70.7 points per game (sixth in Pac-12) is all fine and good, but allowing 76.3 makes for the league’s worst average scoring margin. Continue reading

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UCLA 88, UW 66: Steve Alford talks about Bruins’ bounce-back win

After a bumpy road trip to Arizona State and Arizona, UCLA looked better against Washington — blowing out the Pac-12′s 11th-place team, 88-66.

Tony Parker shook off his recent foul troubles and scored 20 points, and the Bruins shot a season-best 62.7 percent. Norman Powell led scored a game-high 24 that included several highlight-reel dunks, and his team had 50 in the paint.

“They were undersized,” said head coach Steve Alford. “We took advantage of that. Sometimes you don’t take advantage of it, and our guys did a good job of doing that.”

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UCLA coach Steve Alford recovering from hernia surgery

UCLA head coach Steve Alford is recovering from hernia surgery, and was not available for Tuesday’s media availability.

He underwent the operation on Monday, but is expected to coach the Bruins for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. tipoff against Washington at Pauley Pavilion.

“He’s been texting the team,” said senior guard Norman Powell. “We all talked to him before film yesterday. He was joking around about different things before surgery. It’s a lot of fun to see that he still has high spirits throughout the adversity that he’s facing.

“We just wish him a speedy recovery and for him to be back before the game tomorrow.”

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At a glance: UCLA at No. 7 Arizona

UCLA (16-11, 8-6) at No. 7 Arizona (23-3, 11-2)
Saturday, Feb. 21, 6 p.m. PT, McKale Center
TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas, Shannon Spake)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: Like it did a year ago, Arizona looks like the Pac-12′s best chance at the Final Four. The difference is that this edition of the Wildcats is even more balanced than the one that fell to Wisconsin in overtime of the Elite Eight — one that, along the way, went undefeated at home and spent eight straight weeks at No. 1.

After losing Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson to the NBA draft, UofA reloaded with five-star wing Stanley Johnson. The Mater Dei product has lived up to every bit of the hype, leading the team in scoring (14.5) and rebounds (6.7) and ranking second in assists (1.96) and steals (1.5). He also shoots an absurd 50.5 percent on 2-point jumpers, making 55 of 109; none of the Bruins’ starters hit more than 38.5 percent. The likely top-10 pick will be a nightmare matchup for UCLA, and is also the only person keeping UCLA’s Kevon Looney from winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

The Wildcats are flat out more talented than the Bruins. They have a veteran point guard in T.J. McConnell, a forward who can stretch the floor in Brandon Ashley, an athletic defender in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and a 7-foot center in Kaleb Tarczewski. Continue reading

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UCLA gets beaten in the paint, on the boards in loss at Arizona State

UCLA looked like it had a chance at Arizona State, Isaac Hamilton pulling up on the right wing for what could have been a game-winning, buzzer 3-pointer. But even that was likely a mirage — just another ill-conceived play in a 68-66 loss, one that delivered a gut punch to the Bruins’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

Hamilton’s shot wasn’t reviewed, since all it drew was back iron and the sighs of UCLA fans hopeful for a late-season surge. On the replay, however, the sophomore’s fingertips looked like they were still on the ball as the backboard lit up red. With 6.8 seconds left, UCLA likely hadn’t created a viable last shot.

The Bruin offense had looked disjointed for much of the second period, missing 11 of its first 14 shots after the break to lose what had been a 36-32 halftime lead.

Norman Powell led the team with 16 points, but didn’t score a second-half point until the final 92 seconds. Big man Tony Parker was a non-factor, fouling out with 9:42 left on the game clock; he finished with just two points and one rebound, his worst showing of the year.

But what really sank the Bruins was lackluster rebounding and indifferent defense. Arizona State dominated them on the boards, 39-27, and sank an array of shots at close range. The Sun Devils shot 54.5 percent on 2-point attempts, and scored 36 points in the paint — 14 more than UCLA. Continue reading

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At a glance: UCLA at Arizona State

UCLA (16-10, 8-5) at Arizona State (13-12, 5-7)
Wednesday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m. PT, Wells Fargo Arena
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: ESPN College GameDay is heading to Tucson for No. 7 Arizona’s Saturday game against UCLA, but the Bruins’ tourney bubble status should keep them from overlooking Arizona State tonight. Steve Alford and company simply can’t afford to lose more than one of its final five games.

The Sun Devils have not been a particularly good team, but they are at least average in most areas and can do enough to upset more talented teams (ex: an 81-78 upset of the Wildcats on Feb. 7). However, despite its “Curtain of Distraction,” ASU has also been unable to string together two straight home wins since December, when it held off Harvard and Detroit. The team is coming off a 10-point win over Washington last Sunday.

In its ninth season under Herb Sendek, Arizona State has been very, very good at one thing: defensive rebounding. The roster doesn’t have much size outside of 6-foot-10 big man Eric Jacobsen, but manages to clean its own glass with a good amount of support from guards and wings. At the top of that list is junior Gerry Blakes, a JUCO transfer who is not only averaging 20.8 points in his last three games, but also leads the team with in defensive rebounding percentage (19.1). Continue reading

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VIDEO: Norman Powell goes between his legs for huge dunk

Oregon arrived at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday with one of the most trigger-happy offenses in the league, and UCLA happily fell into that long-distance style. The two teams combined to take 28 3-pointers in the first half, out of 60 total field-goal attempts.

But the play of the half belonged instead to Norman Powell, the Bruins’ freight train of a guard. The senior has improved his 3-point shooting this year — from 29.4 to 33.3 percent — but his bread and butter is still attacking the paint. He did that against the Ducks, using a stiff Thomas Welsh screen and a through-his-legs dribble to set up a vicious dunk.

“That’s Norman,” said head coach Steve Alford. “He’s SportsCenter. He does that. There’s one of those a game. That one — that move there — was as good as it’s been all year long. … I’ve never seen a pick-and-roll split like that.”

Added Powell: “I saw a little space where he hedged out too fast before I came off the screen. The rest was just instincts.”

The 6-foot-4 guard led the Bruins with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, helping them to a 72-63 win.

Video h/t @cjzero / The Cauldron

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At a glance: UCLA vs. Oregon

UCLA Bruins (15-10, 7-5) vs. Oregon (18-7, 8-4)
Tipoff: Saturday, Feb. 14, 12:07 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: FOX (Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: Oregon is a run-and-gun offense, one that can bury a team quickly if its shooters heat up. That’s what happened to UCLA when it traveled to Eugene last month. The Bruins played a level of defense that veered from lackadaisical to putrid — allowing the Ducks to shoot 75 percent from the field in the first half of an 82-64 blowout.

UCLA senior Norman Powell called out the team for its defensive effort in Eugene, and it might be up to him again to make sure there isn’t a letdown after stifling Oregon State on Wednesday.

On the other hand, Oregon’s own defense is paper thin. Since conference play started, the team has allowed opponents to make 53.2 percent of their 2-point shots — a huge hole that UCLA should be able to exploit if it can establish an inside-out attack. Continue reading

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