There was one, and probably only one, positive for UCLA fans after the Bruins were crushed, 78-56, by North Carolina on Thursday. It certainly wasn’t when Bryce Alford turned the ball over three straight times, or when Kevon Looney dribbled off his foot or when Isaac Hamilton threw a routine pass into the stands.
Rather, with the game on the more obscure AXS TV, maybe some fortunate viewers out there couldn’t find the channel.
Somehow, UCLA (4-2) actually led at one point early on. The Bruins could have even kept this close — if they just had committed a dozen fewer turnovers. Or if they hadn’t given up 15 straight points after pulling within single digits. Or if Norman Powell hadn’t bricked that dunk. Or if Looney hadn’t picked up four fouls to start the second half.
UCLA’s loss on Wednesday to Oklahoma was explainable. The mistakes were correctable.
Thursday’s game was an all-around collapse.
“Our guard play wasn’t very good and our frontcourt wasn’t very good,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “And that’s not a very good combination.”
Alford walked into the postgame news conference looking like a man who’d just eaten spoiled gravy. He was followed by Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman. Neither are starters and neither had spoken with the media after a game before.
Alford was sending a message.
Not that he had much else to choose from. Powell had 15 points but five turnovers. Bryce Alford had six giveaways. Hamilton had seven and was scoreless on six shots.
“The efforts that we got out of these two guys were terrific,” Alford said. “We didn’t get much out of too many other individuals.”
No. 5 North Carolina (4-2) crushed No. 22 UCLA with pressure, and the Bruins turned the ball over, and over and over — 23 times. They had only seven assists. North Carolina scored 31 points off turnovers.
After the brief UCLA lead, North Carolina outscored the Bruins 30-10 over the last 14 minutes of the first half.
In the second half, the Bruins showed some fight. They opened the half with a run to pull within nine. Then Tony Parker missed a pair of free throws, Marcus Paige hit two three-pointers and UCLA was done.
It didn’t help that Looney picked up his fourth foul just seconds into the second half and was forced to sit. Looney has looked like a shoo-in for a double-double, but came four rebounds shy in 23 minutes. When Looney was on the floor, the Bruins actually outscored the Tar Heels.
“The plan right now,” Welsh said, “is just to forget about this game, learn what we can from it.”
UCLA now finds itself in danger of coming in last place in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. The fight for seventh place will be tomorrow against Alabama Birmingham.
“It’s a gut-check game for us,” Alford said.
Alford said he expects his team to bounce back, to learn from this.
There were plenty of lessons. Alford said he must find a suitable backup to give Bryce Alford some rest. Playing against pressure must be addressed.
Still, with little depth, the options are limited.
“We’re not changing our offense or changing our defense overnight,” Alford said.
On paper, UCLA looked as if it could compete with the Tar Heels, who were beaten by unranked Butler on Wednesday. The schools are two of college basketball’s most storied. Together, they have made 91 NCAA Tournament appearances, 35 Final Four appearances and won 3,907 games.
On Wednesday, Alford remarked that neither had expected to be in the losers’ bracket.
On Thursday, only one looked as if it really belonged.