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.
This isn’t to say that Alford’s latest campaign is doomed. Pac-12 teams went 3-7 on the road this week, likely a sign of the conference’s parity. While there aren’t any “gimme” wins left in the league, there also isn’t an overwhelming power that will enter the postseason unscathed. The Bruins can afford a few more growing pains.
That No. 8 Arizona looms on Thursday, however, doesn’t bode well. UCLA has relied on its frontcourt of Parker and sophomore Thomas Welsh to beat up on defenses this year, but that big lineup wasn’t nearly as effective this weekend. Parker shot three of 14 against the Huskies, then was benched for the final six minutes against the Cougars. In Pullman, he made three of seven shots and had four fouls.
Like Parker, point guard Bryce Alford was supposed to provide veteran leadership for the Bruins. Despite his late-game heroics in Seattle — where his 3-pointers forced two overtimes — the junior is stuck in his worst shooting slump of the season.
Alford shot two of 10 at WSU, failing to score in double figures for just the third time this season. He is shooting just over 25 percent from the floor in his past four games, compared to 43.2 percent through his first 11.