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UCLA players know they need to start better to finish better

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SPOKANE, Wash. -- UCLA players might want to write this down.

Game time is 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The reason for the reminder is that the Bruins need a wakeup call most nights. They have trailed at halftime in seven of their last 10 games, including the last four. It has caused some second-half scrambles, such as Thursday's 91-82 victory over Washington.

Players have identified first-half doldrums as a reason for problems on the road in conference play. UCLA has lost the second game of its three previous two-game trips in Pac-12 play.

The Bruins will chase that white whale again facing Washington State on Saturday.

"We've got to come out strong and fast," freshman guard Zach LaVine said. "We keep getting down at halftime, letting other teams get ahead of us and build momentum.

"We have come out a little sluggish. Some dudes don't have it in the first half. We've got to come out with fire."

If ever there was a weekend the Bruins should cruise on the road, it's this one.

Washington State is locked in an intense battle for last place with USC. The Cougars lost to the Trojans on Thursday, leaving the teams tied with 2-15 records.

But Jordan Adams sees warning lights in taking the Cougars lightly.

"They play at a slower pace," Adams said. "That's harder for us. We've got to get stops. We're struggling with that still."

Coach Steve Alford liked the offensive effort in the first half against Washington on Thursday. He was far from pleased with the defense until the second half, when the Bruins strung together a few stops to gain control of the game.

"We have to show up focused from the start this time," Adams said.

Alford said he has framed this two-game trip as if it were an NCAA tournament weekend, in which teams play two games in three days.

"We are trying to mimic that," Alford said. "If we want to continue to play in the tournament, we have to be able to win Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday. We have been telling the guys that."

The tournament approach would be more a minds-et, but there are changes to the routine.

"We don't go to the gym on the day off," Alford said.

The Bruins did that on previous trips, including the Colorado-Utah swing, where they played Thursday-Saturday.

"We landed in Salt Lake City and went to the gym," Alford said. "This trip is like the tournament. We'll do all our Friday prep work at the hotel."

The Closer

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why freshman guard Bryce Alford is on the floor late in games.

Alford has shot 79% on free throws this season. That percentage spikes late in games. He has made 27 of 29 in the last two minutes and overtime during Pac-12 play.

"It's something he has worked very hard on," Steve Alford said. "Growing up, he was always in the gym. That's where I was when he came to see me. He did get in his share of free throws. He paid attention to it."

Like his father?

"I don't know if he was as goofy as me, getting in 100 a day," Alford said.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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