UCLA

Playing off the ball helps UCLA's Bryce Alford be on his game

Isaac Hamilton's taking on point guard role helps Bryce Alford, who shoots better when ball is passed to him

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The seeds of Bryce Alford's nine three-pointers against Southern Methodist were planted in childhood. His father Steve, now UCLA's basketball coach, would teach him how to read screens, how to rub right off the shoulder of the screener and slip loose from the defender.

As UCLA's point guard, Bryce Alford hasn't always had the opportunity to rub by a screen for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. But the SMU game marked the continuation of a shift: Isaac Hamilton split the ball-handling duties, and Alford caught fire.

Against Alabama Birmingham on Saturday, Hamilton may play more at point guard.

"I think you're seeing him get a lot more comfortable with the ball and kind of running the point a little bit," Alford said of Hamilton. "I'd say we're about 50/50 on running the point now."

Both players fit more naturally at shooting guard, but with no other options each has learned to direct the offense. When Hamilton struggled with the transition, Alford took over.

Alford is most dangerous as a spot-up shooter. At point guard, he's had to create his own shot.

About midway through the Pac-12 Conference season, Hamilton said, "as I felt more comfortable, [Coach Alford] started to move me over more and now we're starting to split that role."

Against the Mustangs, that made the difference. Alford is a 38.8% three-point shooter overall but makes 54.7% of assisted three-pointers, according to hoop-math.com.

On Thursday, more than half of Alford's three-pointers — five — were assisted.

Battle on the board

Jerod Haase, Alabama Birmingham's coach, said the difference between the Blazers team that lost to UCLA, 88-76, in November and the one the Bruins play today is "night and day."

The biggest change might be on the boards. In its NCAA opener, UAB had 19 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Iowa State by a margin of 15 overall. Tyler Madison had nine offensive rebounds in 14 minutes — and he's a guard.

"On the scouting report, it's always get to the offensive glass and attack the glass and get second-chance points," guard Robert Brown said.

UCLA forward Kevon Looney said the Blazers are tricky on the boards because they send almost everyone to the basket. They are not particularly tall, but, Looney said, they are physical, like a football team.

"I remember it being a war down there," Looney said.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

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