UCLA lost to USC last night to be swept by Just SC for the first time since 2010.
USC (18-5, 7-3) notched a second win over the Bruins for the first time since 2010, a season that ended then-head coach Ben Howland's streak of five straight NCAA Tournament berths. More than halfway through conference play, Alford's third campaign is in danger of a similar ending.
UCLA (13-10, 4-6) is mired in the bottom half of the conference, having only recently figured out that its two-center frontcourt of Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh was too much of a defensive liability. Bolden may be a better option, but the former four-star recruit still looks out of sorts on offense, taking and missing his only shot of the game.
And in the first half on Thursday, UCLA could have used a few more buckets. After falling into nine-point hole in less than two minutes, Holiday proceeded to score the Bruins' first seven points. Midway through the period, he had accounted for nine of UCLA's 16 points. At that point, the 6-foot-1 guard was 4 of 8 from the field. His teammates were 3 of 18.
It may be 2010 all over again, the last time UCLA had a losing record in the PAC 12 conference. To be clear, although the Bruins played hard this game was never really close:
Five seconds in, the Trojans were ahead, jumpstarting a 9-0 run to begin the game as they hit their first four shots, the last one a corner 3 by Jacobs. USC was able to push the pace, compiling 13 fast-break points, including an electric dunk later in the first half when Elijah Stewart caught an alley-oop from Jordan McLaughlin (nine points, 10 assists, five steals).
"We obviously didn't have a very good start, and that's critical," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "They started very well."
While UCLA was swept by Southern Cal, the reasons in the two games according to Alford were different and not athleticism related last night:
When Parker played, USC had no answers for his post presence. But playing him and Welsh could've turned USC's track meet into a stock-car race.
Parker scored 13 points in 14 minutes, less playing time than Bolden or reserve forward Gyorgy Goloman.
With the new lineup, UCLA Coach Steve Alford thought the Bruins were not at an athleticism deficit.
"I didn't notice that in this game as much as I did in Game 1," he said.
Parker and Aaron Holiday were the only Bruins to shoot 50% or over for the game. This is a big reason why:
USC never trailed and led by as much as 14 points in the first half.
USC shot 45 percent from the field, but its best effort might have been on defense, holding UCLA to 34 percent shooting and its lowest scoring output of the conference season.
That was a season low shooting percentage as well. Alford never played Big Big but the result was the same.
"We missed a lot of easy shots," said head coach Steve Alford. "Bigs missed a lot of easy ones inside. Guards missed some wide-open looks on the perimeter that we normally make."
So much for Alford's recent lineup changes, which had given the team hope of a turnaround after a 14-point home loss to the Trojans three weeks ago.
Forward Jonah Bolden's introduction to the starting lineup last weekend was a crucial component in a 33-point blowout over Washington State. When he reprised that role at the Galen Center, the thought was that the 6-foot-10, 220-pound sophomore would give UCLA the athleticism necessary to guard USC's fleet-footed roster.
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."
Bye Bye NCAA Tournament.