UCLA coach Steve Alford changes motivational tactics amid struggles

UCLA coach Steve Alford said this year's Bruins don't respond as well to "mental pressure" as last year's team. (David Crane/Staff)

UCLA coach Steve Alford said this year’s Bruins don’t respond as well to “mental pressure” as last year’s team. (David Crane/Staff)

As UCLA continues to hover near the bottom of the Pac-12, head coach Steve Alford said he’s had to adjust how he motivates his Bruins.

Recently, that’s meant fewer references to the big picture, one that has the team sitting uncomfortably outside almost every NCAA Tournament projection. With just three weeks left in his third regular season in Los Angeles, Alford said his latest group of players has not responded as well to pressure as their predecessors.

“That’s been me, not them,” he added. “Anytime I’ve applied a little bit of that mental pressure, we haven’t handled it well. It’s learning your team. Last year’s team handled that really well.”

After starting 2016 with back-to-back losses at Washington and Washington State, the Bruins (14-11, 5-7) have yet to move above .500 at any point in conference play. If that trend holds, it will be a first for the program since the league expanded to 10 teams in 1978.

But that’s exactly the sort of thing that Alford doesn’t want his team to think about. A year ago, stressing urgency worked for UCLA, something that the coach attributed in part to the presence of senior guard Norman Powell.

This season, the staff has learned that it’s better to steer the team’s focus in a different way. One difference is by integrating “three keys” for each game, so as to keep the Bruins from getting overloaded with information during game-week preparation.

“The way we respond to things, I think, is a little bit different,” said junior point guard Bryce Alford. “I think we’ve done a better job when our coaches give us a one-game scenario.”

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UCLA clings onto NCAA hopes with 78-65 win at Arizona State

UCLA got a win it desperately needed on Sunday night. Now, it just needs to scratch out five or six more.

The Bruins injected a bit of life into their tepid NCAA tournament hopes in Tempe, closing out a 78-65 win over Arizona State — one of just two teams sitting below them in the Pac-12 standings. After weathering some hot shooting early on, they held ASU to 31 percent from the field in the second half. With 86 seconds left, Steve Alford felt comfortable enough to empty his bench.

Talent disparity or not, UCLA (13-11, 5-7) showed a few encouraging signs. Most crucial was the play of sophomore Jonah Bolden, who led the Bruins with a career-high 16 points. That’s no small feat, even considering his four-star pedigree. Heading into Valentine’s Day, the 6-foot-10 forward had averaged just 3.5 points per game in conference play.

Perhaps sharing the floor with Tony Parker has helped. The senior center is by no means a perfect player, but he nonetheless commands a healthy share of defensive attention. And in the last couple of games, Alford has become more willing to play Bolden next to Parker, rather than subbing out Bolden for sophomore Gyorgy Goloman. Continue reading “UCLA clings onto NCAA hopes with 78-65 win at Arizona State” »

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UCLA stumbles again in 81-75 loss at No. 17 Arizona

Arizona coach Sean Miller says his Wildcats had "self-inflicted breakdowns" during their 87-84 loss at UCLA on Jan. 7. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

Arizona coach Sean Miller said his Wildcats’ defense had improved since a January loss at UCLA. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

Earlier this week, Sean Miller insisted that Arizona’s defense is better than what UCLA saw a month ago at Pauley Pavilion.

“Although I don’t think we’re night-and-day different, we have steadily improved,” said the Wildcats’ head coach.

Heading into the McKale Center on Friday night, UofA had only allowed two teams to shoot more than 50 percent from the field: UCLA and Oregon. It lost both those games, the first of which was punctuated by Bryce Alford’s game-winning 3-pointer at Pauley Pavilion. The latter, meanwhile, marked No. 17 Arizona’s first home loss since February 2013.

The rematch against the Bruins this week, Miller hoped, would see his players put in a much stouter performance.

The Wildcats did enough. After falling into a double-digit halftime hole in Tucson, Arizona closed out an 81-75 home victory. The foul-filled game, which saw UofA shoot 45 free throws to UCLA’s 16, marked the Bruins’ fifth loss in seven outings.

It may have very well ended their at-large NCAA Tournament hopes. Continue reading “UCLA stumbles again in 81-75 loss at No. 17 Arizona” »

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