Steve Alford guided UCLA to some impressive nonconference wins, but the Bruins have now lost their first two Pac-12 games. (Andy Holzman/Staff)
Less than halfway through Steve Alford’s third season, UCLA has already seen dizzying highs and lows.
The Bruins’ upset win over Kentucky a month ago was their first over a No. 1-ranked team since 2003. Their win at Gonzaga less than two weeks later marked the Bulldogs’ 11th loss ever at McCarthey Athletic Complex, which opened in 2004.
UCLA has opened the new year in far less inspiring fashion. After dropping a double-overtime decision at Washington on Friday, the team followed suit two night later by losing to Washington State for just the 17th time in 120 meetings. In an 85-78 decision, it allowed the Cougars — picked to finish last in the Pac-12 — to shoot 60 percent in the second half.
That’s not the only unflattering milestone. By falling at UW and WSU, the Bruins have dropped both games of their Washington road trip for the first time since February 1993. Tony Parker, the team’s lone current senior, wouldn’t be born for another five months.
UCLA has now started 0-2 in conference play for the second straight season, something almost unheard of in program history. When the Bruins lost their first two league games in 2011-12, it marked a first for the team since 1987-88.
UCLA safety Tahaan Goodman should have been called for a targeting penalty against Washington State on Saturday, said Pac-12 vice president of officiating David Coleman.
Appearing on Pac-12 Networks today to talk specifically about targeting fouls, Coleman analyzed a few calls from the weekend with network analyst Mike Yam. One was Goodman launching himself head first at WSU quarterback Luke Falk, who had left the game earlier with an apparent head injury but returned to start the second half.
“It’s a definite– It’s a launch,” Coleman said. “We have to have our antenna up when something like that happens. As you see from this shot, there is definitely elbow to helmet contact, and that’s a targeting foul. …
UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins made this clear on Tuesday: He’s not happy with Pac-12 officiating.
Asked about what the Bruins could have done better in their 31-27 loss to Washington State, the junior said: “It’s really tough sometimes beating the referees and beating the other team. It’s really tough sometimes. We were just looking at it on film. There were so many missed things. I was appalled.”
Head coach Jim Mora had echoed those thoughts this weekend, saying that conference opponents have only been called for holding twice on UCLA’s passing plays this season. Hollins thinks the issue is disproportionately affecting the Bruins, rather than it being a case of holding not being called against anyone.
The junior said that WSU right tackle Cole Madison even admitted to holding him after the game: “He was just, ‘Oh, it was a rough night for me. I just couldn’t help but hold you the whole night.'”
“Maybe (we need to) send the refs a gift basket or something,” Hollins added. “I don’t know.”
Jim Mora talked about UCLA moving past its loss to Washington State and the Bruins’ unusual record of success on the road, and also gave a very detailed injury report. Linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea and receiver Devin Fuller appear on track to return from ankle injuries this week.
His status for the Bruins’ Saturday trip to Utah could be questionable. Head coach Jim Mora was uncertain about Johnson’s chances of returning to practice with the team on Tuesday.
“I hope he’s gonna be OK,” Mora said. “I don’t know for sure yet. That young man’s overcome a lot. He’s gotten to a point where he’s playing pretty effectively.”
Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, had lost his first two seasons at UCLA to shoulder surgeries. The former four-star recruit has broken out over the past month, starting four straight games and making a case for himself as the Bruins’ best cover corner.
He has 17 tackles this season to go along with four pass breakups and an interception. The secondary is already missing all-conference cornerback Fabian Moreau, who suffered a season-ending foot fracture in UCLA’s third game of the season.