Q&A: Looking at ‘The Drive’ with producer Michael Tolajian

After two seasons of shooting football, the Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive” docu-series is trying to focus on basketball for the first time — jumping around the conference to focus on its various teams. Tonight’s episode, which airs at 9 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks, is focused on UCLA and Oregon State.

“The Drive” crew shot the Bruins’ loss to Oregon State on Jan. 22, their win at home over Colorado on Jan. 31, and some of the practices leading up to each one. It also focused on the respective coaches, Steve Alford and Wayne Tinkle, as well as Bruin freshman Kevon Looney and Oregon State’s Gary Payton II.

I caught up with senior coordinator Michael Tolajian to ask him how the experience of shooting the two sports compared, as well as his thoughts on Alford and Jim Mora.

How did you pair teams together for episodes? This is the first episode that isn’t arranged geographically (i.e. Arizona State and Arizona, Colorado and Utah). Was it a factor that UCLA and Oregon State are teams have underachieved and overachieved, respectively?

Michael Tolajian: We weren’t set in stone with doing the local teams. We did it sometimes. A lot of it had to do with what the programming lead-in was going to be. … Ideally, there would be a live UCLA game or live Oregon State game going in. we weren’t able to do that every time, but that’s a good way to get audiences to tune in.

The other aspect was talking to the coaches and talking to the school. A lot of the times they had preferences. There was no set formula. It was kind of a combination.

We kind of set this early. We didn’t really know (who was good). Other than knowing Arizona would be good and maybe Utah. Really, the rest of the Pac-12, you could throw them in a hat. Any given night, you don’t really know. We shot with Cal. They started off well, went in the toilet, and then now they’ve won a few in a row. … It’s really been hard to predict. Like any documentary type programming, you just have to be there and follow along. Sometimes the stories contrast nicely, and sometimes not.

How does it compare to shooting “The Drive” for football the past two seasons? Do you lose a bit of depth in favor of breadth versus depth compared to the football format? Are there any advantages to being able to dabble around the conference through the season?

Tolajian: Unlike football, where it’s kind of episodic, you’re following along each and every week. You’re tied in every week. With basketball, we’re bouncing around the conference. More than it being about the narrative of the team, it’s really taking a step behind the curtain, hearing from some of the players, hearing how the coaches run the teams. … It’s really sights and sounds and process, rather than trying to tell some overarching story. Continue reading

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At a glance: UCLA vs. Oregon State

UCLA Bruins (14-10, 6-5) vs. Oregon State (16-7, 7-4)
Tipoff: Wednesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Spero Dedes, Kevin O’Neill)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: If defense is mostly about effort, then first-year head coach Wayne Tinkle has Oregon State working harder than it has in at least a decade.

According to kenpom.com, the Beavers have ranked top-100 nationally in defensive efficiency since 2003, and sank all the way to 215th during former coach Craig Robinson’s final season. Just one year later, OSU is now ranked eighth — right behind Pac-12 leaders Utah and Arizona.

The team has become greater than the sum of its parts. Gutted by the loss of the team’s top-five scorers in 2013-14, Tinkle even resorted to holding an open tryout back in October. Now, he’s turned that collection of players into a roster that is fifth-best in the country in opposing 3-point percentage, top-20 in block and turnover percentage.

But like many teams in the conference, Oregon State hasn’t looked the same away from home. Continue reading

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Looking back at Bryce Alford’s last shot in UCLA’s loss at Cal

If UCLA’s 64-62 loss at Cal last Saturday ends up being the game that costs the Bruins an NCAA Tournament berth, there might be one play that’s reviewed more than any other: Bryce Alford’s missed 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The offense stalled and missed five of its last six shots to end the game — including a poorly conceived jumper by Norman Powell that could’ve tied it — so it’s not fair to put the blame on one player. But Alford still had a chance to win the game, and arguably could have generated a better shot had he passed to a wide-open Isaac Hamilton on the other side of the court.

Looking at the replay, Alford had a chance to find Hamilton with about three seconds left on the game clock — when he was crossing the “Pete Newell” between his bench and the announcer’s table. While it would have been a tough pass, that Alford didn’t have his head on a swivel sank any chance of it happening. Hamilton also wasn’t wide open for another second or so, but Alford could have potentially identified that the defense was shifting away from that area — then lobbed it ahead.

“I didn’t see Isaac,” Alford said. “Obviously, watching tape, he was running down the court. … If I’d seen him, I definitely would have thrown it to him.” Continue reading

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Pac-12 road sweep continues to elude Steve Alford after loss at Cal

In his short career as UCLA head coach, Steve Alford has led the team through seven Pac-12 road trips. The Bruins have yet to sweep a single one.

Their latest stumble might have been their most costly, a 64-62 loss at Cal that followed arguably the best three-game stretch of the season — one that moved them into a third-place conference tie. After knocking off then-No. 11 Utah, Colorado and Stanford, UCLA fell to a Bears squad that needed a 3-pointer at the beat last-place USC.

Here are the good things that happened: the Bruins (14-10, 6-5) took advantage of Cal’s soft interior, and fed Tony Parker for 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting; Kevon Looney tweaked the right hip he rehabbed this past offseason, but only sat out for about five minutes and finished with his 12th double-double of the season; in a road environment, UCLA kept the game close for the entire second half.

Here are the bad: the Bruins turned the ball over early, against a team that ranks among the worst in college basketball at forcing turnovers; their offense looked gassed again to end a second straight game; they gave up a bevy of 3-point shots, including two that cost them the game. Continue reading

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UCLA hangs on at Stanford, moves into third place in Pac-12

UCLA played stretches of good basketball and stretches of bad basketball, and bits of basketball that hung on little more than good fortune.

Somehow, it added up to a 69-67 win at Stanford on Thursday night, the Bruins’ first outside of Los Angeles since Thanksgiving weekend.

It was a victory that moved UCLA (14-9, 6-4) into third-place tie in the Pac-12, and one that represented the team’s first significant road win of the season. It was also one that saw the Bruins — who attacked and defended well through the middle swath of the game — melt down in the final minutes, going without a field goal after 5:19 after leading by as much as 22 points.

The Cardinal (15-7, 6-4) had a chance to win on Chasson Randle’s desperation heave at the buzzer but it clanked off, leaving Arizona and Utah looking like the only teams in the conference locked into NCAA tournament berths.

UCLA took control of the game late in the first half, and stayed in the driver’s seat for several minutes. The Bruins took its first double-digit lead with 4:57 left in the opening period, having gone on a 10-2 run in just over two minutes. They also held the Cardinal scoreless for well over five minutes, their zone scheme flustering the home squad. Continue reading

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At a glance: UCLA at Stanford

UCLA Bruins (13-9, 5-4) vs. Stanford Cardinal (15-6, 6-3)
Tipoff: Thursday, Feb. 5, 6:05 p.m., Maples Pavilion
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Fleming, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: UCLA has won just one game outside of Los Angeles this season. Notching a victory at Stanford tonight would help preserve what slim chances at the NCAA tournament the Bruins have left.

Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, but the Cardinal would probably be the runner-up. (UCLA has better top-end talent, but Stanford has more depth.) Head coach Johnny Dawkins saved his job with a Sweet 16 run last season, and was also rewarded with what has been a Pac-12 Player of the Year type of season from Chasson Randle. The senior is a score-first guard, but he fills that role well and is scoring 20.8 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting. He also hits more than 40 percent from beyond the arc, and is averaging 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Randle is also accompanied by fellow sharpshooters in Anthony Brown and Rosco Allen, both of whom can light it up from outside. UCLA did a poor job defending the perimeter, which seems to trace back to a philosophical flaw in Steve Alford’s playbook. The second-year head coach said last season that he isn’t as concerned with allowing 3-point attempts versus easy shots in the paint. That makes the Bruins susceptible to teams that get hot from downtown. Continue reading

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Norman Powell earns second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor

In the midst of a career stretch, UCLA’s Norman Powell has been named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second time this season.

The senior guard has scored 68 points on 56.1 percent shooting in his last three games, the first time that he has ever strung together three consecutive efforts of at least 20 points. He did this by rediscovering his penchant for attacking the lane — scoring efficiently despite hitting just one of six 3-pointers during the same stretch.

Still the Bruins’ best on-ball defender, he totaled seven steals in wins over Utah and Colorado, as well as nine rebounds and five assists.

Powell had been previously named the conference’s weekly MVP on Nov. 24, after he combined to score 47 points in wins over Nicholls State and Long Beach State. Freshman forward Kevon Looney also won Pac-12 Player of the Week on Jan. 12, making UCLA the only school to have three such honors this season.

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