UCLA-Washington St. Preview
UCLA undoubtedly is one of the country's most confusing teams, owning a victory over the nation's No. 1 squad at the time but also a home loss to a low-major.
The 25th-ranked Bruins likely have only one more day to enjoy being in the Top 25, and they'll spend it at Washington State on Sunday night trying to bounce back from another stunning defeat.
UCLA (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12) opened its season with an overtime loss to Monmouth on Nov. 13 as part of a 3-3 start, then went on a five-game winning streak that included victories over then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3 and at then-No. 20 Gonzaga on Dec. 12.
It couldn't keep the momentum going and has dropped two of its last three, including a 96-93 double-overtime loss at Washington on Friday to open Pac-12 play.
The Bruins shot 37.7 percent to tie their season low from the Monmouth game, and Bryce Alford hit just 5 of 21 from the floor. He finished with 30 points, though, while missing just one of his 18 free throws that were part of UCLA's 50 attempts overall.
Alford kept the Bruins alive twice, making a 3-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation to tie it, then sending it to a second overtime with a 3 with 13 seconds left.
"It was one of the worst nights of my career going into the last couple of minutes of the game," Alford said. "You've got to have confidence you can help your team and when my team needs me I think that's when I'm best. It was unfortunate the way it started but you've got to have confidence you're going to help your team."
Alford's night was a microcosm of a Bruins season that has featured plenty of inconsistency under his father Steve in his third year as coach. They're likely to fall out of the rankings again and will try to avoid heading into Thursday's home matchup with No. 8 Arizona with back-to-back losses in Washington.
The Cougars (8-5) have dropped three of four and were outmatched in their league opener Friday, falling 90-77 to a USC team that shot 52.9 percent from the field.
Josh Hawkinson finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds while Ike Iroegbu added 13 points for Washington State, which is shooting 44.5 percent over its last four after hitting 53.8 percent through its first nine.
"We started the game flat, and I'll take responsibility for that," coach Ernie Kent said. "I don't think we played with a lot of intelligence and a lot of effort. That film doesn't lie. You can see who gave you that effort."
That lackluster performance prompted Kent to explain that he had a full practice planned for Saturday before facing UCLA. Three of his starters played fewer than 20 minutes, mostly using his bench in the second half after the Cougars fell behind by 17 at halftime.
"There's no time off. We're into Pac-12 play now," Kent said. "These guys have had enough time to rest. It's more about getting ready to play and redeeming yourself. We need to bounce back now and play a lot tougher basketball come Sunday."
Hawkinson had 21 points and 14 rebounds in last season's meeting, but Alford's 13 points helped the Bruins earn a 72-67 home victory.