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February 27, 2014

UCLA looking to avoid first losing streak of the season

UCLA proved on Saturday that old habits are hard to shake when it lost to Stanford, but the Bruins are hoping that another habit will remain as they enter their final home stretch of the season.

The Bruins' nine-point loss to Stanford in Palo Alto marked the third time in as many road trips that they have been defeated in the second game of a conference road trip.

While Steve Alford and his coaching staff will try their best to ensure that habit is broken when UCLA closes out the Pac-12 regular season with a pair of road games against the Washington schools, they are hoping that a redeeming habit will persist when the Bruins get back to action against Oregon at home on Thursday.

So far, UCLA has yet to lose more than one consecutive game and the span between its conference losses has been increasing on each occasion.

"I give the players credit 'cause I've been there before," said Alford, who played college ball at Indiana under Bob Knight. "That's not easy when you lose and you get knocked down. Learning to win again, that's not just an automatic, whether you're playing at home or you have to go play on the road."

While he lauds his players for their prior success in immediately rebounding from a loss, Alford knows it won't be automatic in UCLA's final home stretch against the Oregon schools.

"They're in that situation again," Alford said. "If we go by past experiences, they've done a very good job, but it's about continuing to prove yourself."

If UCLA is able to sustain its pattern for the remainder of its conference schedule, it will become the first Bruins team to avoid back-to-back regular-season losses since the 2007-08 team, which eventually made a run to the Final Four.

However, that team lost a total of three games that season and compiled a seven-game conference winning streak heading into the Pac-10 Tournament, which it won.

This year's Bruins (21-6, 10-4) were poised for an extensive winning streak with a flashing start to the second half of conference play, but were overwhelmed by the sensational shooting performance of the Cardinal's junior guard Chasson Randle, who led Stanford with a game-high 26 points, 21 of which were recorded beyond the arc (8-of-13 FG, 7-of-10 3P FG).

"I think we respond very well after a loss," UCLA's 6-foot-9 point guard Kyle Anderson said. "The problem is: When we win those two or three games, we gotta keep it up, gotta learn to sustain that effort and act like we just came off a loss."

Now is no time of the year for UCLA to begin dropping consecutive games if it plans on remaining at the top of the conference.

"Teams get tougher; games get tougher," UCLA's leading scorer Jordan Adams said. So, it gets fun around this time."

The Bruins' loss on Saturday has allowed Stanford and California to jump to within one game of second place, which UCLA currently occupies with a 10-4 record in Pac-12 play.

As UCLA tries to stave off fellow Pac-12 contenders in the conference race, it will first face a team that's making a late-season run after a whirlwind start to the season.

Oregon, which ascended up to as high as No. 10 on the national rankings with a 13-game winning streak to start the season, has compiled a three-game winning streak after going 2-8 following its blazing opening.

With four conference games remaining, the 6-8 Ducks can still potentially manage to nab a bid to the NCAA Tournament because of their undefeated non-conference schedule.

Their first obstacle to that goal will be UCLA, which won the teams' first matchup in Eugene on a put-back shot from Travis Wear with six seconds left.

"We're getting a very good, very hungry Oregon team that's coming in here," Alford said "They know they're playing for a lot; we're playing for a lot. So, it makes for a late-February great game."

The Bruins aren't just playing to fend off the competition but are also battling for their second-consecutive regular-season conference title.

After losing over the weekend, they have dropped to two games behind first-place Arizona (14-2), which the Bruins won't face again in the regular season.

Thus, UCLA's destiny solely relies upon its own performance, and on Thursday, on its ability to regenerate after defeat.


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