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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Wanaah Bail ruled academically ineligible, out for UCLA’s season

UCLA forward Wanaah Bail has been ruled academically ineligible and will sit out the remainder of the season, leaving an already thin Bruins roster with just two frontcourt reserves.

After an injury-riddled freshman year, Bail was averaging 1.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in nine minutes per game. He made 11 appearances as a sophomore, but saw his usage dwindle consistently: after playing a career-high 17 minutes in UCLA’s season opener, Bail’s minutes dropped to 15, 12 and 10 in the next three games.

He never played more than eight after Thanksgiving, and was a healthy scratch in the Bruins’ 87-74 loss to then-No. 9 Gonzaga on Dec. 13. He ended his season by playing eight minutes in an 83-44 blowout loss to No. 1 Kentucky.

There was little to like about Bail’s performance this year. 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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Can UCLA get a marquee win against No. 9 Gonzaga?

UCLA hosts No. 9 Gonzaga tonight at 7:05 p.m., the first part of a tough five-game stretch that will tell everyone a lot more about what type of team Steve Alford has on his hands.

Kenpom.com currently projects the Bruins losing all five: to the Bulldogs (44% win probability), No. 1 Kentucky (12%), Alabama (44%), Colorado (44%) and Utah (27%). The latter four games are all away from Pauley Pavilion.

» Can UCLA handle Gonzaga’s big men, Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 288) and Domantas Sabonis (6-10, 231)?
» Mark Whicker looks back at UCLA’s memorable Sweet Sixteen win over Gonzaga in 2006, the last time the two teams met.
» Freshman Kevon Looney has been a consistent force inside for UCLA, and is one double-double short of the national lead.

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Pac-12 Tournament tickets available for $12 on Dec. 12

For fans of numerical repetition — and of basketball, I suppose — the Pac-12 has the sale for you.

The conference announced today that tickets for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena will go on sale for $12 on Friday, Dec. 12. A limited number of those will be available for 12 hours (duh!) starting from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. PT., or as long as the supply lasts.

You can buy these at Ticketmaster using the promo code PAC1212. These are per-session tickets, which means you’ll need to buy six if you want to watch every single game. All-tournament passes also go on sale at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The Las Vegas tournament starts on March 11 and ends March 14. The same deal is available for Pac-12 women’s basketball, which will hold its competition at Seattle’s Key Arena on March 5-8.

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VIDEO: Steve Alford laments UCLA’s lack of ‘toughness’

For the second straight game at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA started slow. Against a UC Riverside squad picked to finish last in the Big West, the Bruins trailed for nearly the entire first half before eventually beating the Highlanders, 77-66.

Head coach Steve Alford attributed that to a lack of toughness, including the discipline to block out and communicate on defense.

“If we don’t develop this toughness, we’re always going to be the kind of team we are right now,” he said.

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