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March 13, 2014

Alford and the Bruins looking for deep postseason run

UCLA picked a less-than-opportune time to play its worst basketball of the season, but the Bruins will have to have a short memory heading into the postseason.

To cap off its regular-season Pac-12 schedule, the second-place Bruins fell to last-place Washington State, which was on an eight-game losing streak and hadn't won a game since Feb. 1.

"Just watching it, live and then on tape, it wasn't us," head coach Steve Alford said, frankly. "It wasn't our character as a team. I'm hoping that it's just one of those one-game things 'cause we haven't played like that all year."

In its regular-season finale against the Cougars, UCLA shot a season-worst 33 percent from the field, scoring a season-low 55 points in the process.

Kyle Anderson (19 points) was the only Bruin starter to finish in double figures. Guards Jordan Adams and Norman Powell, who averaged 28.4 points per game this season, scored a mere collective 14 points.

Even more puzzling was that the Bruins' offense woes came a game after they shot 54.2 percent and scored 91 points in a win against Washington. Adams, UCLA's top scorer (17.5 points per game), netted a career-high 31 points in that game.

Yet, despite the anticlimactic conclusion to the regular season, the Bruins' defeat came as little surprise even though they were heavily favored to top Washington State.

The loss was UCLA's fourth on the second game of as many road trips, leaving the team without a road sweep in conference play.

Failure to win consecutive games away from Pauley Pavilion in the postseason will have a much more definitive consequence now.

Coming up short in a single-elimination tournament would not only bring about disappointment, but termination as well.

"There's some finality to it if you don't do the job now," Alford said. "Those can be distractions as well."

Although UCLA remains focused on performing well in the Pac-12 Tournament and stringing together a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Alford wants to ensure his players aren't overwhelmed or anxious about the postseason after a lackluster finish to the regular season.

"We want to loosen the guys up a little bit and make sure they're enjoying this time," the first-year Bruins coach said.

Enjoyment was absent from UCLA's postseason last year.

In the Bruins' final season under longtime head coach Ben Howland, they lost in the Pac-12 Tournament final and were soon after eliminated in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament with Adams sidelined due to a foot injury he sustained in the semifinal of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Alford's determined to instill confidence in his team and keep UCLA loose but disciplined approaching its first postseason game in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals against Oregon on Thursday.

Even in the wake of their poor regular-season finale, he's convinced the Bruins can reboot in the postseason.

"I think the guys are energized," Alford said. "We want to make sure the guys are still mentally and physically very fresh and excited, and I think they're going to be because they know ... that we're one of those teams if we get hot, we're gonna be a tough out."


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