UCLA routs Colorado to keep alive hopes for an NCAA tournament bid

UCLA routs Colorado to keep alive hopes for an NCAA tournament bid
Colorado guard Josh Fortune (44) drives on UCLA guards Aaron Holiday (3) and Bryce Alford (20) during the first half of a game on Feb. 20. (Gus Ruelas / Associated Press)

After UCLA's 77-53 victory over Colorado on Saturday, Coach Steve Alford laughed. Sometimes, the difference in the Bruins' performance from game to game has been striking.

At times, the Bruins have been lethargic, or their defense has lagged, and they've lost close, winnable games. Other times, they've appeared dominant.


How do they find consistency?

"It's a tremendous question," Alford said. "I just don't know the answer."

It was UCLA's second-largest margin of victory in conference play this season and its second-best defensive performance.

UCLA never trailed. It made nine of its first 11 three-point shots, and 11 of 20 overall.

Isaac Hamilton scored 17 first-half points and finished with 22. Bryce Alford had nine assists, and Aaron Holiday had seven.

After losing three of its previous four games, UCLA's NCAA tournament hopes have dimmed, but they aren't extinguished. If the Bruins (15-12, 6-8 in Pac-12 Conference) win out, they'd reach 19 regular-season victories and their conference record would peek above .500 for the first time this season.

"The next four will be really critical," Hamilton said.

Last season, the Bruins were in a similar situation. On Feb. 21, 2015, they were swept by Arizona State and Arizona, and had a 16-12 record. They won their last three regular-season games, won a game in the Pac-12 tournament and were selected to the NCAA tournament.

But winning out this season is a daunting task. California, UCLA's next opponent, hasn't lost at home. Oregon, which beat UCLA by 14 points in January, is ranked third in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

Steve Alford said it was hard to judge what the Bruins needed to do to earn a bid.

"It's hard because the landscape keeps changing," he said. "I know we have to keep building a resume."

On Saturday, UCLA again displayed the offensive firepower than has made it dangerous at times.

UCLA led, 44-28, after the first half, and when Hamilton made a three-pointer with less than 17 minutes remaining, UCLA led by 21 points.

It was only the second time in the Pac-12 season UCLA has led by 20 points or more. The lead would swell to 26 points.

The Bruins still occasionally sleepwalked for short swaths of the game. During one second-half span, UCLA missed eight shots in a row.

But its defense did not allow Colorado (19-9, 8-7) any opportunities. During the Bruins' slump, the Buffaloes, too, missed 10 shots in a row. The teams went 5 minutes 28 seconds without a basket.

Colorado's leading scorer, Xavier Talton, scored only 12 points.

"Defensively, it was as good as we've been in a long time," Steve Alford said.

For the first time this season, except a game when he was ill, Thomas Welsh was not in the starting lineup. Forward Tony Parker started instead. Parker had 16 points andsix rebounds in 20 minutes.

Welsh also played 20 minutes and had 10 points and six rebounds.

Steve Alford said the switch "wasn't punishment for Tom," just as he said it wasn't punishment when Parker was taken out of the starting lineup earlier this season.

Steve Alford said that as the coaches discussed the switch Friday, Welsh came to them and suggested they put Parker in the lineup to provide a spark.

It may have worked. Hamilton said he thought the team displayed an urgency that has been lacking.

"When we play like that, we're a different ballclub," Hamilton said.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand