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UCLA men's basketball team looks to regain shooting touch

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Bryce Alford has had better birthday weekends.

It started in Colorado on Thursday. The normally dead-eye UCLA freshman guard missed all seven of his shots. Two days later, he missed all four shots against Utah.

"That was very unlike me," Alford said.


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As foreign as it was, he was savvy enough to know, "When you get in a shooting slump, or whatever you want to call it, you want to get out of it as soon as you can."

The Bruins may need group therapy for that at the moment.

Jordan Adams, UCLA's leading scorer, has more clank than swish in his shot lately. Zach LaVine, a marquee freshman, has been on-again, off-again. David Wear's shooting percentage has gone into a bear-market-like crash.

This could make a decent reality show: "When Good Shooters Go Bad."

UCLA shot 52% in nonconference play, second nationally, but in the last four games, the Bruins have cooled to 42%.

They lost two of the four games, leaving the Bruins (14-4 overall, 3-2 in Pac-12 Conference play) two games behind Cal and Arizona heading into Thursday's game against Stanford (12-5, 3-2) in Pauley Pavilion.

Dealing with this can be tricky.

Bob Thate, a longtime shooting coach now with the Clippers, said the worst thing a slumping shooter can do is force his shots.

"Inside, your body is a little tighter, it throws you off," Thate said.

So start with acceptance.

The Bruins, Coach Steve Alford said, do not have a problem. In fact, he denied the "S" word on Tuesday.

"I don't think we're in any kind of a slump," Alford said.

Alford saw the glass as half full in Colorado, praising the Bruins for proving they could win on a night when they shot 39%. Two days later, they proved they could lose when shooting 43% against Utah.

"We just had two games on the road, that's not a shooting slump," Alford said.

Yet, the Bruins struggled in their last two home games, shooting 40% in a loss to Arizona and 45% in beating Arizona State.

Whether four games make a slump can be debated. What is clear is the Bruins have labored to score.

"We got in a hurry offensively," Alford said. "Because of that, we took more difficult shots."

The fix starts within.

"You have to know who you are and what you can do," Thate said.

It is clear what Adams can do. He shot 50% from the field in nonconference play. Yet, he has made only 16 of his last 51 shots.

Adams' treatment plan for what ails his shot? Keep shooting.

"Seeing the ball go in, that's the most helpful thing," Adams sad.

Thate believes in that as well.

"When a great shooter goes bad, he is still a great shooter," Thate said. "The mechanics you have that made you a great shooter come back. It's natural for you."

Thate was born to shoot. He had an All-American career at Occidental after transferring from USC and a pro career in France.

He still holds the season scoring record in France's top pro league.

He knows that good shooting comes from DNA.

"Jamaal Wilkes had a messed-up form, but he had that feel," said Thate, who spent four seasons as the New Jersey Nets' shooting coach.

Adams has shown he has the feel. But he has made only four of his last 18 three-point shots.

Don't expect him to be shy about shooting.

"You can't go that route," Adams said. "I'm going to keep shooting. That's my role on the team."

It's the proper mind-set, Thate said.

"You can't think about your shot when you're going up in the air with a guy in your face," Thate said.

The work comes in practice.

"Get in the gym," Bryce Alford said. "Start in close and then move your way out. Get back to basics."

Thate said that video work is essential. A baseline video, taken when a player was shooting well can detect mechanical flaws.

Said Thate: "Is your elbow coming out too much? Is your balance right? Are you leaning back? Is your arm extended? Those are things to look for."

It still come backs to the simple fact that if you can shoot, you can shoot.

"Guys who can't shoot can work on their mechanics and get better," Thate said. "But when it goes bad, it goes bad. It's just not in them."

It was in Steve Alford, who had the natural-shooter feel as a player. He honed that skill by tossing ping-pong balls into potato chip cans. He would wear out "five or six nets each summer" on the basket at his family's home.

He said there were tricks to working out of a shooting slump, even if he maintains the Bruins are not in one.

"I always tell guys get to the free-throw line, it's a free shot where nobody is guarding you," Alford said. "If you're a three-point guy, can you get a 15-footer? If you're a 15-foot guy, try to get a layup."

Yet, there have even been layups the Bruins have struggled to make the last four games.

They may not be in a slump, but Bryce Alford said that the "toughest part is keeping the confidence up when you're not shooting well. We have great guys. We trust each other that when we have open shots, we're going to make them."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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