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February 7, 2014

UCLA focused after missed opportunity

Preparing for its follow-up matchup against USC, UCLA was anything but mum about the opportunity it had just blown in Corvallis, Ore.

Facing a middle-of-the-pack Oregon State team, UCLA botched an opportunity to climb within one game of the first-place Arizona Wildcats with a lackluster 71-67 loss to the Beavers, which knocked the Bruins conference record to 6-3.

"That was a huge missed opportunity," sophomore center Tony Parker admitted. "That was a missed free throw in the fourth [quarter] with a second left to win the game. That's exactly what that Oregon State game was."

"Maybe it was just a loss of focus for our guys," sophomore Kyle Anderson added. "We're a young team. We try to get better at so many different things that sometimes we kind of forget our strengths."

UCLA now holds sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 after California lost to Stanford on Wednesday, but the team played arguably its worst basketball of the season in Corvallis on Sunday.

"Of all of our games, not just league games, I thought that was the one game where we didn't have that it-factor of just really competing like we know we can compete for 40 minutes, and that's what was frustrating," head coach Steve Alford said. "There's a big difference in the will to win and the will to prepare to win. It's hard preparing every week, every game and getting consistent with that."

Fortunately for UCLA, the Bruins had a bye week to unwind at the midway point in conference play and focus on recapturing that "it-factor."

Alford gave the team Monday and Tuesday off to rest and said he was pleased with Wednesday's practice.

As UCLA enters the second half of the conference season, Alford understands the importance of his team consistently playing at a high level.

"Now, it's just a matter of starting to play our best basketball. I thought we were getting to that point," Alford said. "We had a minor setback in Corvallis and we have to get that back quickly before we get to USC. ... I think our will to prepare is going to be greater going into this weekend than what it was last weekend. As long as we grow like that, we'll be fine."

While UCLA fumbled its opportunity to ascend in the Pac-12 against Oregon State, the Bruins outlook for winning the conference improves with the unfortunate season-ending foot injury of starting Arizona forward Brandon Ashley.

The Bruins know the importance of capitalizing on future opportunities and winning the games they're expected to win.

"Going forward, I think we can't really have any more letdowns," senior forward David Wear said. "We really need to focus and play to our potential and play with intensity a full 40 minutes of every game."

The opportunity for UCLA to rebound and prove it's learned its lesson comes immediately.

To launch the second half of conference play, the Bruins will take on their crosstown rival USC, which they annihilated, 107-73, to begin conference play a few weeks ago.

The Trojans, who will host UCLA in the Galen Center on Saturday, are 1-8 in Pac-12, winning their only conference game against Cal, which is currently caught in a three-way tie for third with Colorado and Stanford.

UCLA will be facing a USC team that has improved since the two first met in January, but the Bruins still have an overall edge on the Trojans.

It'll be a perfect chance for the Bruins to get back to playing their best and demonstrate that the letdowns won't continue.


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