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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