VIDEO: Steve Alford takes blame for UCLA’s 86-84 loss to UW

UCLA head coach Steve Alford took “full responsibility” for the his team’s 86-84 home loss to Washington on Thursday night, one in which the Bruins dug themselves an early hole with an ugly first half.

“It looked like we had several guys not into the game and not ready to play,” Alford said. “That falls on me. I didn’t see that and didn’t get that read in practice, but we had a lot of them that were very out of character in the first half.”

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Bryce Alford: UCLA hasn’t played its best basketball yet

UCLA is one of just four teams with losing records in Pac-12 play this season. Given the league’s parity, however, it’s not as dire a situation as some may think.

The Bruins (12-8, 3-4) head into tonight’s 7 p.m. tipoff against Washington just two games back of first place — held by the Huskies and Oregon. Although head coach Steve Alford is still trying to figure out the team’s best defensive rotations, finishing at or near the top of the conference still isn’t out of the question.

“We haven’t played our best basketball yet,” said point guard Bryce Alford. “That’s definitely encouraging. It gives us confidence that, usually around this time of year, we start playing pretty well. … If we can continue to keep working and get hot right now, we’ll be just fine.”

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UCLA can’t get late stops in 86-72 loss at Oregon

After scoring just one basket in the first half at Oregon, UCLA’s Isaac Hamilton made his second at just the right time.

The junior drilled a 3-pointer with 12:20 on the game clock, one that cut the Bruins’ deficit to just three points. They had trailed by as many as 12 points just two minutes earlier, but the first Pac-12 road sweep of the Steve Alford era looked within reach.

But, as Alford had complained earlier this week, UCLA just couldn’t get a stop. Pulling away for an 86-72 win at Matthew Knight Arena, the Ducks closed out the game by shooting 12 of 19 from the field, including four of seven from beyond the arc. Key to the effort was 6-foot-10 forward Chris Boucher, the JUCO transfer playing his first season in Eugene.

Named the NJCAA Division I Player of the Year after averaging 22.5 points at Wyoming’s Northwest College last season, the Montreal native buried the Bruins (12-8, 3-4), scoring eight of his 18 points in the final four minutes. Continue reading

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Can UCLA basketball’s defense keep up with faster teams?

The UCLA men's basketball team has struggled on defense this season, particularly against up-tempo teams. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

The UCLA men’s basketball team has struggled on defense this season, particularly against up-tempo teams. (Stephen Carr/Staff)

After a comfortable win at Oregon State on Wednesday, Steve Alford said that UCLA finally “guarded the way that we wanted to guard.” Can the Bruins keep it up?

Both Alford and his players have explained the team’s defensive struggles with terms like “energy” and “demeanor” — suggesting that the problem has less to do with matchups than willpower and focus. But there’s another factor that could help clarify UCLA’s inconsistency: pace of play.

Against teams that rank top-100 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical rankings, the Bruins have a 2-6 record. Against teams below that, they are 10-1, with the lone loss coming to Washington State.

As for the Beavers? They were the slowest opponent UCLA has faced this season, clocking in at No. 263 with 67.5 possessions per 40 minutes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bruins have an average scoring margin of -5.5 against teams that average at least 71.0 possessions per 40. When it faces teams that average less than 70.0 possessions, UCLA is cruising along at +7.6 — a figure that doesn’t even factor in their 32-point win over CSUN.

This obviously isn’t a perfect measure, but the data at least echoes how the Bruins’ transition defense has looked according to the eye test. It also helps explain how the team convincingly upset Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Arizona.

Fortunately for UCLA, most of the Pac-12 isn’t running at a breakneck pace. Washington is far and away the leader, ranking fifth in the NCAA at 78.0 possessions. Next in the league is USC, which ranks No. 45 with 72.8.

No one else is even in the top 100. Oregon and Colorado both average 70.3 possessions, just 0.1 behind the Bruins, while Stanford rounds out the league down at 67.1.

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