USC 80, UCLA 61: Thomas Welsh

Thomas Welsh talked about UCLA’s 80-61 loss at USC, one that the Bruins’ opened by falling into a 9-0 hole. According to the sophomore center, the ugly offensive start trickled into the team’s defensive play too.

“That’s not the way it should be,” he said. “You should always be able to play hard on the defensive side of the ball, but we just weren’t making shots. It was downhill from there.”

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USC 80, UCLA 61: Steve Alford

Steve Alford talked after UCLA’s 80-61 loss at USC, the Trojans’ first sweep in the rivalry since 2010. The Bruins shot a season-worst 34.8 percent from the field, including 29.7 percent in the first half.

Asked what changes he’ll consider making between now and March, the third-year coach said: “No idea. We’ll see how practices ago. …

“We are who we are at this time. We’re not going to start doing a 1-3-1 zone and trapping everywhere. We’ve just got to get better at who we are.”

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VIDEO: UCLA coach Steve Alford on USC rivalry, Bruins’ outlook

With just nine regular-season games left, UCLA is still hovering below .500 in conference play. Needing a few more emphatic wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins take their next step on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at USC.

Head coach Steve Alford talked on Tuesday about the matchup. A few notes:

» UCLA shook up its starting lineup this past Saturday, playing forward Jonah Bolden ahead of senior Tony Parker in an 83-50 win over Washington State. Bolden seems likely to keep that spot, with Parker continuing to man the backup center position instead of playing next to sophomore Thomas Welsh in a “big-big” frontcourt.

“We played well last game doing that,” Alford said. “I don’t think it’s always going to be etched in stone as to who that is, but I don’t see any changes.”

» Alford lost to USC for the first time on Jan. 13, with his Bruins devolving on defense. Looking back on that 14-point loss, the third-year coach pointed out that the Trojans scored 13 points off of “50-50 balls,” as well as 16 second-chance points.

“When you fuel their transition game by mistakes that you make, that makes it really, really difficult,” Alford said.

USC represents the type of athletic, up-tempo team that has troubled UCLA all season, and offers a good test for just how much Bolden’s presence will improve the Bruins’ defense. Continue reading

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Three thoughts after UCLA’s 89-75 loss to USC

UCLA’s 89-75 loss to USC sows more doubt about the trajectory of Steve Alford’s third season with the Bruins. (John McCoy/Staff)

1. How much can UCLA improve its defense? There was little dispute about the main reason behind the Bruins’ 89-75 loss to USC on Wednesday night, one that stands at one of the ugliest home efforts of the Steve Alford era.

The team gave up 89 points and allowed the Trojans to shoot 45 percent from beyond the arc. The Bruins rank last in the Pac-12 in the former category, and eighth in the latter. Combine that lackluster defense with a potent but inconsistent offense — and a very tough schedule — and you get an average scoring margin of just +2.6. Every other team in the conference is above 4.0, and six are in double digits.

What’s the solution? Alford hinted at potential lineup changes, saying that freshman forward Alex Olesinski — who didn’t play at all against the Trojans — could get more minutes. The third-year coach also mentioned sophomore Gyorgy Goloman, who returned from a stress fracture in his leg and saw the floor for two minutes in his season debut. But both are role players who have combined for just 526 career minutes. It’s difficult to imagine them being able to transform the team’s defensive performance within the next month or so. Continue reading

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