Yesterday's 89-80 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette was the kind of win that isn't entirely satisfying. The headline of Joey Kaufman's article sums up the game fairly accurately: "Bryce Alford delivers for Bruins, who survive scare."
It shouldn't have been close at the end. As UCLA demonstrated in the first half, even without Thomas Welsh (out with a stomach virus) and Prince Ali (out with a bruised left knee), when the Bruins are fully engaged and focused, they are much better than the Ragin' Cajuns. But in the closing minutes, the Bruins needed Bryce Alford to secure their eighth win of the season:
With less than two minutes left in its 89-80 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night, UCLA, which went ahead by 19 points in the first half, had watched its lead shrink to six points and needed a basket to stave off the late push.
Alford delivered. His shot rattled in, bringing a crowd of 5,460 at Pauley Pavilion to its feet as the Bruins went ahead of the Ragin' Cajuns, 82-73, and it never got that close again.
The 6-foot-3 junior guard finished with a season-high 27 points, playing 38 minutes for the shorthanded Bruins (8-3).
As the Intern notes, UCLA failed to deliver the kind of start-to-finish performance that Steve Alford expects from the Bruins:
With six seconds left in the game Tuesday night, after UCLA was all but assured a victory over Louisiana Lafayette, Coach Steve Alford still crouched by the scorer's table with his hand over his forehead.
The Bruins' 89-80 victory over the Ragin' Cajuns at Pauley Pavilion was their fifth in a row. But UCLA frustrated its coach and fans for much of the game.
After building a big lead in the first half, sloppiness crept into the Bruins game:, and as both Tony Parker and Steve Alford acknowledged, the level of effort dropped off:
"We definitely took our foot off the gas," forward Tony Parker said. "It became a real dogfight toward the end, but if we would've kept our foot on the gas, we would've made it way easier on ourselves."
"We haven't been up 20 in a while," Steve Alford said. "And then all of a sudden, we're throwing behind-the-back passes, we're throwing no-look passes, we shut down our defense."
Of course, this isn't the first time that the Bruins have failed to maintain defensive intensity. To Steve Alford's credit, he recognizes the persistent problem:
The defensive lethargy, Steve Alford said, was part of a troublesome pattern. In some games, he said, the defense played with constant intensity.
"I really saw it against Gonzaga, and I saw it against Kentucky," he said. "And Long Beach. When we had to. And Louisiana Lafayette. When we had to. And that's the danger."
On the other hand, I'm unimpressed by Steve Alford's overview of the season to-date:
"We lost to Monmouth by one possession and we lost to Wake by one possession in Maui," Steve Alford said. "We're two possessions from having this thing at 10-1. But I think we've learned from those games, too."
Yes, the Bruins lost to both Monmouth and Wake Forest by 3 points, but UCLA edged UNLV by just 2 points, and beat Cal Poly and Gonzaga by just 5 points, so it's equally true that the Bruins are just 5 possessions from being 5-6.
Thanks to Jack Wang for sharing video of Steve Alford's post-game press conference.
I'll close this news wrap-up of UCLA's unconvincing win against the Ragin' Cajuns with this laughably clueless intro to the AP story:
The past two years as UCLA's point guard, Bryce Alford excelled at running the offense. This season, he's recognizing there's a time for him to forget about his teammates and just shoot.
Whatever your opinion of Bryce Alford, I think everyone agrees that Bryce has not been a reluctant shooter at UCLA.
North Carolina is up next. The Bruins will definitely need to be focused and engaged for the full 40 minutes if they are going to knock off the 11th-ranked Tar Heels.