As the final buzzer sounded and the California crowd buzzed into a frenzy, Bryce Alford sat on the bench.
He lingered for maybe five seconds. Then he buried his bruised, pained face into a towel.
Snce 1985, when the field expanded, UCLA has qualified for the NCAA tournament in all but six seasons. It is teetering toward a seventh. In what was close to a must-win game Thursday night, the Bruins lost to Cal, 75-63.
And Alford endured perhaps his worst game since early January, making four of 13 shots and missing four key free throws. He added only two assists.
Fans chanted “Daddy's boy” most times he touched the ball. He started one of seven. He briefly caught a rhythm late, and UCLA surged. Then his free-throw touch escaped him, and the run sputtered.
Alford is UCLA's assists leader, its second-leading scorer. But he has made only 27% of his shots on the road during conference games. The Cal crowd was particularly venomous.
“I've been so used to it,” he said. “I tone it out. Obviously today, you start missing free throws, and they start gaining steam like that, it's hard. It's very hard on you. But at the same time, I don't make any excuses for missed shots.”
“That's part of being a coach's kid,” said his father, UCLA Coach Steve Alford.
Bryce Alford emerged from the locker room after the game icing a purple bruise below his left eye. He was poked in the eye during Tuesday's practice and was sent to an emergency room. His vision was blurred but returned fully by Wednesday.
“I felt good in warmups,” he said. “I thought we all were shooting the ball pretty well in warmups.”
But the first five minutes couldn't have been much worse. Cal (20-8, 10-5 in the Pac-12 Conference) has the conference's best defense. Early on, it swarmed. The Bruins missed their first five shots, and California zipped to a 13-1 lead. UCLA never led.
For the rest of the game, the teams played to a tie.
Steve Alford said he thought the team showed effort and fight. But it could hardly make a shot. UCLA made 40.6% of its field-goal attempts. It made two of nine three-pointers, nine of 19 free throws.
In the second half, the Bruins found life. Aaron Holiday, Tony Parker and Jonah Bolden scored on consecutive possessions. The Bruins' deficit was only four points.
After a Cal basket, Bryce Alford readied himself for a one-and-one opportunity at the line.
He missed the first. Twenty-eight seconds later, Holiday did too.
Alford soon missed two more. The crowd grew louder.
“I don't know if it got in my head or what happened, but I just couldn't shake it,” Alford said. “We were down six, and I had the chance to cut it to two, and I missed the front end of a one-and-one, that's something I never do. So that's stuff that really frustrates me.”
Cal guard Jaylen Brown held Isaac Hamilton to only 12 points. Brown also scored 16 points with 10 rebounds. Jabari Bird led Cal with 20 points.
Holiday scored 10 points with five rebounds and five assists, and Parker and Bryce Alford led UCLA with 15 points. Center Thomas Welsh had 16 rebounds.
The Bruins (15-13, 6-9) will finish without a winning conference record for only the fifth time since John Wooden took over in 1948-49. The Pac-12 tournament may be the Bruins' best shot at the NCAA tournament. But the Bruins remain optimistic that three late wins can propel them into the field.
“We'll keep fighting,” Parker said. “We're a good basketball team.”