Steve Alford got everything he wanted out of UCLA's season-opening homestand - a 4-0 mark, a win on his birthday to complete it and the knowledge his team is capable of dealing with some adversity.
The confident and 22nd-ranked Bruins leave the comforts of Pauley Pavilion for the first time Wednesday when they face Oklahoma in a first-round game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Led by Alford's son and point guard Bryce Alford, the Bruins have raced out of the gates, averaging 95.3 points while scoring 107 or more twice. Sunday, though, provided a different challenge as Long Beach State slowed the tempo with a zone defense and hung close to UCLA, which eventually pulled away for a 77-63 win.
"We needed to see what happens when someone punches you to start the second half, and I thought it took us a while to respond," said coach Alford, whose team allowed the first nine points of the second half and still only led 66-61 late. "We kept fighting. It was our worst shooting night of the year.
"We have to work on our zone offense. We haven't seen it much in our first three games. We just haven't had to go against a zone for the most part, so we have to work on that."
Bryce Alford finished with 17 points and seven assists, and the sophomore has compiled a 5.57-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging 20.0 points and 9.8 assists. Norman Powell leads UCLA with 21.3 points per game, while freshman forward Kevon Looney has been an immediate contributor with double-doubles his last three games and is averaging 14.8 points and 12.0 rebounds overall.
"It was a night where he missed some easy ones," Steve Alford said of Looney, who finished with 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds. "He is so hard to match up on the backboard. ... What looked like an off night was still a really good night with a double-double and some really big rebounds, and he had two huge blocks - one late in the second half so I thought he did some really good things."
Oklahoma (2-1) tumbled out of the Top 25 due to a 65-63 loss at Creighton last Wednesday, but regrouped with a 90-68 rout of Northwestern State on Sunday. Isaiah Cousins hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 20 points to lead five Sooners in double figures, and coach Lon Kruger was pleased his team thrived in an up-tempo environment ahead of what likely will be a similar-type game versus UCLA.
"It was definitely more of an open-court, transition-based game," Kruger said. "They were really moving the ball well and making a lot of good plays for each other. It was good to get in the right column and we will get ready for UCLA on Wednesday."
Buddy Hield leads the team in scoring (20.7) and has a team-high 11 3-pointers, while Cousins (13.3) and Ryan Spangler (11.7) also are in double figures. Oklahoma is shooting nearly as well from 3-point range - 40.9 percent while making 27 of 66 - as it is overall (41.5).
Point guard Jordan Woodard may be critical to the Sooners' success versus UCLA. He is averaging a team-high 6.7 assists but also averages 4.0 turnovers and is shooting 26.3 percent (5 for 19).
The winner will face the winner of the game between Butler and No. 5 North Carolina in the semifinals Thursday, while the losers will meet in the consolation bracket.