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 to wear colorblock alternate uniforms in Pac-12 Tournament

UCLA's new postseason alternate uniforms, which are far from the worse thing the Bruins have ever worn. (adidas)

UCLA’s new postseason alternate uniforms, which are far from the worst thing the Bruins have ever worn. (adidas)

After the Great Zubaz Scandal of 2013, the standard for shock and awe and disgust has already been set for the world of UCLA alternate uniforms. We have seen the future, and it nearly blinded us.

So here is the newest UCLA alternate uniform, colorblocked according to the latest fashion trends. It will be worn briefly during the Pac-12 Tournament in two weeks, then stored away as all UCLA alternates always are. Adidas will tout the “lightweight, sweat-wicking technology” and “targeted ventilation zones.” When asked, players will respond with appropriate enthusiasm. Some fans will nod politely; others will wring their hands and grit their teeth.

The gyre of sporting couture whirls on.

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UCLA 88, UW 66: Tony Parker shakes recent struggles, score 20

Tony Parker couldn’t stay on the floor on UCLA’s last road trip, fouling out in losses at Arizona State and Arizona. In that stretch, he totaled just four points and two rebounds.

Facing Washington at home was a complete 180, as the 6-foot-9 big man abused the Huskies’ undersized lineup early. He made his first four shots, and finished with 20 points as the Bruins won 88-66.

“I only took two shots that (last week),” he said. “I knew I had to come out aggressive and play tough just to get going. … Staying out of foul trouble was a big thing for me too.”

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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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At a glance: UCLA vs. Washington

UCLA (16-12, 8-7) vs. Washington (15-11, 4-10)
Wednesday, Feb. 25, 8 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, BIll Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: A once-promising start to the season for Washington has fallen apart over the last month, with the Huskies stumbling into a seven-game losing streak — the longest of Lorenzo Romar’s 13-yard tenure.

Six of those losses came after the dismissal of big man Robert Upshaw. The 7-foot redshirt sophomore had averaged 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 blocks before violating team rules. No one in college basketball is averaging more than 3.74 blocks per game, and only six are even averaging more than 3.0. And even though he hasn’t played since Jan. 28, Upshaw is still fifth in the country and first in the Pac-12 with 85 total blocks; next-best in the conference is Oregon’s Jordan Bell, who is seven blocks behind despite playing eight more games.

The effect of Upshaw’s absence is easy to gauge. In the seven conference games he played in, he recorded 29 blocks and helped Washington hold opponents to 41 percent shooting from the field. In seven games without him, the Huskies are giving up 53.6 percent.

This means it’s as good a matchup as any for Tony Parker to find his groove again. Continue reading

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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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Arizona 57, UCLA 47: Norman Powell talks loss to Wildcats

After UCLA’s 57-47 loss at No. 7 Arizona on Saturday, the Bruins can no longer get to 20 regular-season wins — a mark that would have likely secured them a spot in March Madness. Asked about his team’s postseason chances, senior guard Norman Powell remained optimistic.

“It’s fuel to our fire,” he said. “Holding serve at home, and making a run in the (Pac-12) Tournament — that’s what’s going to lock us up getting back into the NCAA Tournament.”

Asked if that meant securing the conference’s automatic bid, Powell said: “Right now, we’re just focused on these three games.”

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Arizona 57, UCLA 47: Point guard Bryce Alford talks loss to Wildcats

UCLA lost at No. 7 Arizona, 57-47, but displayed some of the best defense it had all season. The Bruins held the Wildcats scoreless for more than six minutes at the start of each half, going out on 7-0 and 17-0 runs.

What was the difference?

“I think it’s just effort,” said point guard Bryce Alford. “Just playing balls to the wall the whole time. ASU, we kind of lacked in that area. Can’t really tell you why. I don’t really know. That’s inexcusable.

“Tonight, I thought we played as hard as we could. Each man, from top to bottom, I thought we played extremely hard.”

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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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