Steve Alford: Center Tony Parker will stay in UCLA’s starting lineup

Tony Parker returned to UCLA’s starting lineup last Saturday, helping the Bruins to a 77-53 win over Colorado. The senior center will keep that role for at least one more game.

Steve Alford said Tuesday that he will keep the 6-foot-9 Parker in his starting five for Thursday’s 6 p.m. tipoff at Cal — relegating 7-foot sophomore Thomas Welsh to the bench. The third-year head coach emphasized that his changes over the last month have not been made to penalize either player.

“Whether it’s Tony or Tom, it’s not a discipline or punishment standpoint,” Alford said.

He added that he is also open to playing both Parker and Welsh together again in a “big-big” lineup if the matchup proves beneficial. The combination, which UCLA used for most of the season before making sophomore Jonah Bolden its starting power forward, gave the team some offensive advantages at the cost of its defense.

Regardless of who Alford plays, he’ll need to figure out how to beat a Cal team that is 16-0 at Haas Pavilion this season. The Bears hold opponents to just 38.8 percent from the field, easily the lowest mark in the Pac-12, and also rank first in the conference in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. Alford praised their athleticism and their size, pointing out the presence of star freshman Ivan Rabb as well as 7-footers Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh.

“They really just tee it up one-on-one and say, ‘You’re not gonna beat us one-on-one,'” Alford said. “That’s a great thing to have, because you don’t see them having to help a lot. And because they don’t help a lot, they don’t give up a lot of open looks. They make open looks hard on you.”

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Don MacLean: ‘UCLA is the most disappointing team in the Pac-12’

Point guard Bryce Alford and his UCLA teammates are currently tied for eighth  in the Pac-12 standings. The Bruins were a preseason pick to finish fifth, a prediction that Alford had said felt too low. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

Point guard Bryce Alford and his UCLA teammates are currently tied for eighth in the Pac-12 standings. The Bruins were a preseason pick to finish fifth, a prediction that Alford had said felt too low. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean has a frank, albeit unsurprising assessment of his alma mater.

“UCLA is the most disappointing team in the Pac-12, in a league that has been terrific this year top to bottom,” said MacLean, the Bruins’ all-time leading scorer. “I expected more out of UCLA based on their level of talent. And that’s why I say if they make a run to the final or even win the Pac-12 Tournament I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

With two weeks left on the schedule, the Bruins (15-12, 6-8) are tied for eighth in the conference standings with Oregon State and Stanford, and currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for tournament seeding.

Perhaps some small solace can be found in the fact that, in the last seven years, the regular-season Pac-12 champion has also won the Pac-12 Tournament just once. During that stretch, however, the tournament champion entered the field as no lower than a No. 6 seed.

RELATED:
» Barring a miracle late run, Steve Alford’s third season has been a disappointment.
» Former four-star recruit Jonah Bolden is finally showing flashes of offensive potential.
» UCLA center Tony Parker returned to the starting lineup in Saturday’s 77-53 win over Colorado.

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UCLA moves center Tony Parker back into starting lineup

UCLA senior big man Tony Parker (23) returned to the starting lineup against Colorado on Saturday after five straight games as a reserve. (David Crane/Staff)

UCLA senior big man Tony Parker (23) returned to the starting lineup against Colorado on Saturday after five straight games as a reserve. (David Crane/Staff)

After five games on the bench, UCLA’s Tony Parker is back in the starting lineup — though not at his old spot.

Against Colorado on Saturday night, the 6-foot-9 big man became the Bruins’ No. 1 center, filling the role for the first time as a senior. For much of this season, the former four-star recruit played as a power forward next to 7-foot sophomore Thomas Welsh. In the last five games, he took to the bench as head coach Steve Alford finally abandoned the “big-big” lineup — one that had become too much of a defensive liability.

Forward Jonah Bolden remained in the starting lineup for the sixth straight game, while Welsh became the team’s backup center for the first time this season. Earlier this week, Bolden was asked how playing next to Parker rather than Welsh changes his role on offense.

“I know Tom can shoot the ball better than Tony,” the sophomore said, “but Tony is more post, gets the ball lower. I can move off him. He gets the ball low, they double him, I cut. With Thomas, he gets the ball wide.”

Against the Buffaloes, the Bruins are (14-12, 5-8) trying to climb back to .500 in conference play in the midst of the most underwhelming season of the Alford era.

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