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UCLA's three-man bench provides energy boost

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Everyone on UCLA's basketball team has a role. "Some," Coach Steve Alford says, "are more glamorous than others."

The headliners are easy to spot. Point guard Kyle Anderson directs as well as stars. Guard Jordan Adams also has a leading man's resume.

The other starters in the chorus line provide some kick.

And there have been important moments too when the understudies on the bench — Bryce Alford, Zach LaVine and Tony Parker — have found the spotlight.

Alford, the coach's son, ignited a recent win over Colorado by making four three-pointers in a span of about five minutes to help push a two-point lead into a double-digit advantage.

Alford finished with 14 points — 12 in the second half — as the Bruins overcame a labor-intensive first 20 minutes and cruised to a 92-74 victory.

"When one of those guys comes in and does that, it can really take the pressure off," Anderson says.

A team might not need a great bench to go far in a conference tournament, or even the NCAA tournament, but it helps.

"We bring energy," says Parker, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound sophomore who averages 7.4 points and 4.5 rebounds. "That can be contagious."

Parker had a key rebound and dunk that helped fuel UCLA's impressive win at California a week ago. Two days later, Parker, Alford and LaVine combined for 36 points and nearly rallied the Bruins back from a big deficit against Stanford. The trio had 21 of UCLA's 24 points during a stretch that pulled the Bruins to within 72-68 with three minutes to play.

"I heard someone refer to us as the 'Power Rangers,' " Bryce Alford says. "I like that."

Next up for UCLA is another Pac-12 Conference game. The Bruins (21-6 overall, 10-4 in conference play) play Oregon (18-8, 6-8) Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Expect UCLA to stick with its usual eight-man rotation against the Ducks, with each of the three players off the bench filling a role and a need.

"Zach brings us enthusiasm and energy, and ability to make shots and create shots" Steve Alford says. "Tony gives a big post presence that can be effective. Bryce handles the ball well and shoots well."

They are used as chess pieces, and it was Bryce Alford who put Colorado in check.

The freshman guard missed all nine of his shots in a previous game against the Buffaloes in Boulder, and he clanged his first two in the rematch at Pauley. "He couldn't blame the altitude this time," his father joked.

As it turned out, no alibi was required. He made four of five shots in the second half.

"You get a couple to go down and the hoop looks a little bit bigger," Bryce Alford says. "You start to think, 'I've got to get the ball in my hands.' "

That was Bryce's job at La Cueva (N.M.) High, where he established a state high school career scoring record. However, the role of focal point is no longer his.

"I was a scorer my whole basketball career," says Alford, who averages 7.6 points and has 72 assists against 31 turnovers. "Now I have to focus on getting us in the offense sometimes, calming us down, getting in the defense."

Whatever is needed, LaVine echoes.

"If it's scoring one day, I feel like I can put up some numbers," says LaVine, a freshman who averages 10.6 points. "If it's playing defense, I feel I can lock my guy down. If it's facilitating, I can get the ball around to guys."

Bryce Alford cites an advantage to the role of reserve: "They have to go in and play right away," he says of the starters. "We get to sit there and watch."

That is more than just a I-feel-good-about-my-job pitch. The view from the bench can be educational.

"I can pick up tendencies of guys I'm going to be playing against," LaVine says.

There is no set formula for an effective bench.

Oregon works with a nine or 10-man rotation, but the Ducks are still trying to recover from a conference stretch when they lost eight of 10 games. Jonathan Gilling started the first 18 games for Arizona State, but the Sun Devils have won seven of their eight games — including an upset of No. 4 Arizona — with him coming off the bench.

"It gave us more pop off the bench perimeter-wise," says Eric Musselman, Arizona State's associate head coach.

UCLA Coach Alford has used the same three players off the bench since early in the season, after Travis Wear fully recovered from an appendectomy. Each has altered the path of at least one game in Pac-12 play:

•Beyond the jolt he provided against Colorado, Bryce Alford scored 13 points against California, including nine in the last five minutes. His consecutive baskets stretched UCLA's lead from five points to nine, then he made five of six free throws in the final 50 seconds to clinch a 76-64 victory.

•LaVine buried eight of 12 shots in an 87-72 victory over Arizona State. He had 19 points — 15 in the first half to help turn the game into an early rout. In one span, he scored nine consecutive points for the Bruins.

•Parker had 22 points and seven rebounds in UCLA's first game against Stanford. UCLA trailed, 20-17, when Parker tipped in a rebound to start a 10-3 run. Parker had seven points in that stretch, and UCLA led the rest of the way.

"We have a role," Bryce Alford says. "We bring a different look to the game when we get in."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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