December 14, 2015

UCLA's stunning season-opening loss at home to Monmouth is a distant memory now.

The No. 22 Bruins have used a four-game win streak to return to prominence as they host high-scoring Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night.

UCLA (7-3) started in dismal fashion with an 84-81 overtime defeat to Monmouth on Nov. 13 for its second consecutive nonconference home loss after 21 straight wins.

The uneven start continued with losses to then-No. 5 Kansas and Wake Forest in the Maui Invitational, but Steve Alford's team made a statement with an 87-77 victory over then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3.

While that victory may be more impressive, the Bruins' 71-66 win at then-No. 20 Gonzaga on Saturday may have been more crucial to the team's psyche. The Bulldogs snapped UCLA's home nonconference win streak last season before eliminating the Bruins from the NCAA Tournament.

"It was very important," forward Tony Parker said. "They beat us twice last year, once in the Sweet 16, so it was a big win for our program, it was a big one for coach Alford."

Isaac Hamilton scored 20 points and Parker added 16 for the Bruins, who held the Bulldogs to 41.0 percent shooting. Hamilton made 8 of 15 shots for the second straight game after he scored 21 in an 83-76 win over Long Beach State on Dec. 6.

"Whenever you hit your first two shots, it kind of gives you an extra boost," Hamilton said. "And from then on, I just kept attacking, trying to create for my teammates and make sure we get the win. The more aggressive I am, the more plays I feel I can make and help this team get the victory."

The Bruins scheduled Louisiana-Lafayette (3-4) partly because the Ragin' Cajuns were picked to win the Sun Belt in the preseason by the league's coaches. Louisiana-Lafayette features power forward Shawn Long, the preseason conference player of the year whose 56 double-doubles since the start of 2012-13 are the most in the nation.

The Ragin' Cajuns are one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, averaging 90.0 points.

There is concern for them, however, since they are 0-4 on the road and have already dropped their conference opener. They have let four opponents shoot at least 50.0 percent, allowing Louisiana Tech to connect at 50.8 in a 91-79 loss Saturday.

Long was held to nine points, failing to score in double digits for the second time in his last 32 games. He grabbed 14 rebounds and is among the nation's leaders with 11.6 per game.

The Ragin' Cajuns blew a 10-point lead with 14:18 left.

Louisiana-Lafayette has struggled to defend the 3-point arc, allowing opponents to shoot 39.3 percent. That's a concern as the Ragin' Cajuns try to contain junior Bryce Alford, the coach's son who is known for his long-range proficiency but is shooting a career-worst 34.0 percent on 3-pointers.

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