Steve Alford talks about UCLA’s big men, preparation for Utah

Steve Alford talked to reporters today before UCLA’s practice, touching on the Bruins’ preparation for Thursday’s 7 p.m. tipoff against No. 11 Utah at Pauley Pavilion. The Utes blew out UCLA in Salt Lake City on Jan. 4, winning 71-39.

Some of the main notes:

– Center Tony Parker is still “day-to-day” with back spasms. He returned to practice with UCLA on Tuesday, but only did non-contact work. Senior guard Norman Powell did not practice on Tuesday with an illness — the latest setback for him after a bruised hip and two dislocated fingers.

– If Parker isn’t ready to play against Utah, true freshman Thomas Welsh will likely make his third career start. But at this point in his career, the 7-footer is more of a jump shooter — one who isn’t capable of anchoring the inside-out offense that worked well during UCLA’s three-game winning streak. He has taken just 39.4 percent of his shots at the rim this season, making 45.9 percent of them.

The key for Welsh, Alford said, is learning to initiate contact rather than bouncing away from it. The coach sees Welsh as a player who could be averaging around seven or eight points off the bench this season. Continue reading

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Tony Parker out with back spasms as UCLA faces Oregon State

UCLA is still without center Tony Parker, who did not travel with the Bruins to Oregon State on Thursday due to back spasms.

Barring a late flight up, Parker does not appear on track to play against Oregon on Saturday either. Without the junior big man, UCLA offense looked abysmal against the Beavers in the first half — shooting just 7 of 30 and falling into a 29-19 hole at the break.

Parker had averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last four games, and even in losses, UCLA’s offense looked best when it could utilize him as part of an inside-out attack.

Freshman Thomas Welsh, who made his first career start in place of Parker, made the first basket of the game for the Bruins at Gill Coliseum. However, the team struggled to find rhythm after that, missing 14 straight shots.

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UCLA center Tony Parker day-to-day with back spasms

As UCLA prepares to leave Los Angeles, it might find itself shorthanded on yet another crucial road trip.

In the midst of a strong stretch, junior center Tony Parker is currently day-to-day with back spasms. The problems flared up this past weekend, when the Bruins reconvened for practice after beating USC last Wednesday. Parker is averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in his last four games, and has become a crucial part of the team’s inside-out offensive formula.

Head coach Steve Alford said Parker, who did not practice on Tuesday, is likely a game-time decision for UCLA’s Thursday game at Oregon State.

“We’ve just got to see,” Alford said. “At 6-9, 255, 260 (pounds), back spasms can be problematic. We just want to get it calmed down before we get him back out there.” Continue reading

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UCLA 86, Stanford 81: Kevon Looney, Tony Parker, Bryce Alford

After UCLA’s 86-81 win over Stanford in double overtime, Kevon Looney, Tony Parker and Bryce Alford talked to reporters about the game that finally snapped their month-long, five-loss streak.

“We couldn’t lose,” Looney said. “Nobody wanted to lose. I just picked up another gear and got going.”

Looney was the star of the night, setting career highs with 27 points and 19 rebounds. He scored 10 of UCLA’s 12 points during a crucial second-half run, one that powered the Bruins back from a double-digit deficit.

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Tony Parker: UCLA’s NCAA tournament chances ‘in question’

After five straight losses, UCLA is sitting with an 8-7 record and in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Junior center Tony Parker admitted as much on Tuesday, shortly before the Bruins practiced at Pauley Pavilion.

“That’s definitely in question,” Parker said. “You have to win games to make the tournament. That’s a big-time thing for us. We have to win games to make the tournament. … We have a chance. We have a shot. It’s early. The line is going to draw in every conference pretty soon.”

He left the window open for his team by citing Oregon’s stretch of eight losses in 10 games before eventually winning eight straight and earning a No. 7 seed in March Madness.

UCLA hosts Stanford at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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UCLA falls at Utah, stuck in first five-loss streak since 2009

This has not been a good year for UCLA men’s basketball.

Just two weeks after being embarrassed on national television by No. 1 Kentucky, the Bruins face-planted again — this time in an ugly 71-39 loss at No. 10 Utah. That was UCLA’s lowest single-game scoring total since Feb. 17, 1967, and marked its first five-game losing streak since December 2009.

UCLA began its afternoon at the Huntsman Center by falling in a 6-0 hole, crept back to within one point, then gave up another 11-0 run to Utah. It was more or less over after that, with the only questions left being: a) how many more ill-conceived shots the Bruins would launch at the rim, and b) how many more “Airball!” chants would volley down from the Utes’ fans.

Point guard Bryce Alford dug deeper into his shooting slump, opening the game with a pair of bricks from beyond the arc and finishing 0-for-10 from the field. After a decent offensive start to the season, the sophomore is in a 5-of-39 drought in his last three games. Continue reading

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Three things to watch as UCLA takes on No. 1 Kentucky

Let’s be honest here. Almost no one expects UCLA to upset Kentucky on Saturday at the United Center, the toughest challenge yet for a Bruin squad that has yet to gel into a team with a strong identity.

Last week, No. 8 Gonzaga already showed how just how far UCLA is from being one of the country’s elite teams, controlling the game the entire night at Pauley Pavilion and easily snuffing every semblance of a Bruin run. So what’s going to happen when Steve Alford’s squad takes on the top-ranked Wildcats, whose rotation consists almost entirely of former McDonald’s All-Americans? A UCLA win would require a number of things to break right. (An act of God wouldn’t hurt either.)

Here are a few things to keep an eye on today.

1. Can UCLA handle Kentucky’s assembly line of big men? The Bruins have outrebounded nearly every team they’ve faced this season, but their loss against Gonzaga finally pitted them against an opponent that could toss superior size their way. Against 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski and 6-foot-10 Domantas Sabonis, UCLA gave up a 34-30 edge on the glass and struggled to convert second-chance opportunities. It also allowed 65 percent shooting inside the arc, with Sabonis missing just one of his five field goal attempts.

The Wildcats have the biggest rotation in the country, starting with seven-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. Continue reading

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