UCLA to face Alabama without revisiting lopsided loss to Kentucky

UCLA men's basketball team isn't looking back after lopsided loss to Kentucky

Members of the UCLA men's basketball team haven't talked about the Kentucky game. UCLA Coach Steve Alford said there aren't any plans to do so.

The idea is to learn, move on and, they hope, bury that seven-point first half somewhere deep in the past, as much as a team can bury an 83-44 loss on national television.

The postmortem has been simple. UCLA's coaches reviewed the tape from the game and observed what needed to be fixed. The players left for the holidays.

The break, Alford said, came at a good time. It offered a chance to clear minds.

"I'm not sure what we would've gotten out of anything by coming back and immediately getting into practice after that game," Alford said.

The players returned Christmas Eve for the first of three days of practice, which Alford described as "spirited." Players have been positive and vocal, which Alford said was a good sign, especially considering the schedule offers no reprieve.

Then came another set back. Wanaah Bail, a sophomore forward who averaged 11 minutes per game, will sit out the remainder of the season after being ruled academically ineligible.

Bail was a role player who averaged 1.5 points per game, but provided depth in an already short rotation. Of the bench players who get regular minutes, only Thomas Welsh, Noah Allen and Gyorgy Goloman remain.

The schedule offers no reprieve. UCLA hasn't yet played a true road game, but after consecutive games against top-10 teams Gonzaga and Kentucky, the Bruins will play three of their toughest road games of this season.

It starts with Alabama on Sunday, a deep and athletic team that this month nearly beat Wichita State on the road. Then UCLA's conference season starts against two of the Pac-12 Conference's preseason favorites: Colorado and No. 14 Utah.

Alford likened the turnaround to the regular-season finale last season. UCLA lost by 18 points to a Washington State team that finished second-to-last in the Pac-12.

"That was the one game we just threw out," Alford said. "We didn't show them tape, we didn't talk about it. We moved on."

The strategy worked. The Bruins won their next five games to win the Pac-12 tournament and reach the regional semifinal in the NCAA tournament.

But there are differences between the teams. Last season's Bruins had more depth and more experience. This season, when under pressure, UCLA has come undone.

Against North Carolina, the Bruins wilted against a suffocating defense. Against Gonzaga at home, a slow start crippled them. And against Kentucky, UCLA gave up 24 points before making a basket.

"We can't put ourselves in those holes," Alford said.

At the same time, he said, there is no quick fix.

"It's not like we can go to the bench for experience," he said.

In all three games, Alford blamed inexperience at the start. In the Kentucky game, he said the team looked uptight, anxious and a little fatigued.

The fatigue should no longer be a problem. But the question remains: Can UCLA feel comfortable under pressure?

The Bruins might need more time. Alford said it doesn't yet feel like they have their backs against the wall.

The next three games could put them there.

UCLA SUNDAY

VS. ALABAMA

When: 3:30 p.m. PST.

Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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

Records: UCLA 8-4, Alabama 8-3.

Update: The Bruins are in the middle of what Coach Steve Alford described as the toughest stretch of the season. They have two losses to top-10 teams, including a demolishing by No. 1 Kentucky. Ahead, they have two road games against Pac-12 Conference preseason favorites. The Crimson Tide will be UCLA's first true road game this season. A week ago, Alabama beat Appalachian State by only a point, but a less than a week before that, it nearly beat No. 11 Wichita State on the road.

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