UCLA lost a very winnable game Thursday that closed if not locked the door on UCLA's NCAA chances. Yes, UCLA can still run the table and go 5-0 the rest of the way and make the tournament. However, according to Steve Alford, that kind of pressure, is probably too tall an order:
Earlier this week, Alford declared his team hasn't responded under pressure. He said it again after UCLA's loss to Utah on Thursday and accepted responsibility for the lack of mental toughness.
"That's been me, not them," Alford said. "Any time I've applied a little bit of that mental pressure, we haven't handled it well."
Alford was puzzled because last season's team played better in must-win situations. Kevon Looney, who left for the NBA draft, was a tough player, Alford said. And Norman Powell, who graduated and is also playing in the NBA, was experienced and hard-nosed.
On this season's team, Alford said, only guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have shown similar resilience.
Uhm, no. Others should feel free to rant in the comments but Bryce has been awful shooting on the road. He has not been good under pressure. (In fairness he has been good at the free throw line and has hit some clutch shots, but where pressure is the biggest, on the road, Bryce has not been good under pressure often chucking up terrible shots.)
On the other hand, the good news is tonight UCLA plays a team that seemingly crumples under pressure, the Colorado Buffaloes. According to their own official news story they choke under pressure and are a bad road team:
A stunning late-game collapse saw the Buffs lose a 15-point second-half lead as Southern California rallied to snatch a 79-72 win at the Galen Center, dealing a major blow to any hopes the Buffs had of claiming a conference championship.
"We had them on the ropes," an obviously disappointed CU coach Tad Boyle said. "We had them where we wanted ‘em but we weren't good enough down the stretch. I take responsibility. I'm the head coach and I've got to do a better job."
Boyle may have been ready to take the blame, but the players on the floor had a share of the responsibility in a stunning 31-10 USC run over the final eight minutes of the game.
"We're just not mentally quite there yet on the road," Boyle said. "People always ask about why you can't win on the road ... it's all between the ears. We play this game at Coors, we blow them out. We're not mentally tough enough to handle the crowd when things get loud and adversity hits."
Two thoughts on this. Colorado's struggles on the road is why UCLA should win tonight.
Second thought. Notice that Colorado only struggles on the road. UCLA struggles at home and the road. This is not an issue of talent.
Let me put this more bluntly, UCLA should win tonight. If they don't, well that is on the coach.