Sports

UCLA's basketball team hasn't performed well under pressure

Five regular-season games remain on UCLA's schedule, and the Bruins may have to win all of them to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament. Each game will have its own level of pressure.

That, UCLA Coach Steve Alford has indicated, might not bode well.

Earlier this week, Alford declared his team hasn't responded under pressure. He said it again after UCLA's loss to Utah on Thursday and accepted responsibility for the lack of mental toughness.

"That's been me, not them," Alford said. "Any time I've applied a little bit of that mental pressure, we haven't handled it well."

Alford was puzzled because last season's team played better in must-win situations. Kevon Looney, who left for the NBA draft, was a tough player, Alford said. And Norman Powell, who graduated and is also playing in the NBA, was experienced and hard-nosed.

On this season's team, Alford said, only guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have shown similar resilience.

"This is a different team," Steve Alford said. "Whether it's been more encouragement, more talking about short term than long term, this team seems to handle that kind of approach a lot better."

Last season, Bryce Alford said the coaches set long-term goals. They wanted to go undefeated at home, for example. At the end of the season, they knew what they needed to accomplish to reach the NCAA tournament.

This season, the coaches say they need to focus on single games. Sometimes even shorter time frames.

"Before each game, they give us three keys of what to focus on the most," Bryce Alford said. "We get so much stuff from scouting, and learning plays and learning each individual player that sometimes it's a lot of stuff to figure out, especially for young guys who aren't used to doing that."

Unlike last season, Steve Alford doesn't plan to emphasize UCLA's NCAA tournament resume to his players.

"We've really talked to our guys about, 'Hey, get focused game to game, take care of it one game at a time,'" Steve Alford said. "If we do that, we get on a roll."

UCLA NEXT UP

VS. COLORADO

When: 8 p.m., Saturday.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: FS1; Radio: 570.

Update: UCLA (14-12, 5-8 Pac-12) can hardly afford another loss, especially at home, where it has lost three of its last four games. On Thursday, against Utah, UCLA mounted a late rally but couldn't overcome a 14-point second-half deficit in a 75-73 loss. Colorado (19-8, 8-6), on the other hand, led by 15 points in the second half on Wednesday against USC but lost 79-72. But forward Josh Scott did return from an injury that sidelined him for two games. Scott, Colorado's leading scorer and rebounder, scored 17 points against the Trojans.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter: @zhelfand

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 20, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Bruins have faltered under pressure - UCLA-USC BASKETBALL" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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