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UCLA basketball players say inconsistency is linked to effort on defense

UCLA has some of the most impressive wins of any college basketball team. It has defeated Kentucky, Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., and, most recently, Arizona.

UCLA also has turned in some of the most baffling performances of any team in the Pac-12 Conference. It was stomped by Washington State last weekend. It lost to Wake Forest. It played Long Beach State and McNeese State to closer games than necessary.

UCLA's record is great against the best teams in the country. UCLA's record is not so great against teams closer to average.

So which is the real UCLA?

Thursday's win over Arizona may have been one of UCLA's most significant, but Saturday's game against a competitive, but not elite, Arizona State team could be more revealing.

"What I'll use is Saturday as a barometer, because here we go again," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. "I want to see where our energy is, where our enthusiasm is, where our excitement is, because we didn't get that last weekend."

Alford thinks last weekend's loss to Washington State was an aberration. His team played without intensity, and paid for it. Any nonconference inconsistency, he said, resulted from UCLA's brutal schedule.

The difference, guard Aaron Holiday said, is mostly on defense.

"I know we're going to score on offense, so we've just got to get stops," Holiday said.

UCLA's inconsistency, several players said, is a symptom of defensive effort. Fix that, they said, and they'll play every team like they did Arizona.

"It's just coming out to play hard every time and being enthusiastic, no matter the scene, no matter where we are," forward-center Tony Parker said. "If we play at a high level with energy, that type of attitude … it's going to be hard to beat us."

UCLA NEXT UP

vs. Arizona State

When: 2 p.m., Saturday

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Update: UCLA (10-6 overall, 1-2 in Pac-12 Conference play) hasn't lost at home since its season opener against Monmouth. On Thursday, the Bruins collapsed late in the game against No. 7 Arizona but won on a three-pointer by Bryce Alford with 1.8 seconds left. The win propelled them back into the conference race and helped ease the pain from two losses in Washington. Arizona State (10-5, 0-2) has shown improvement in its first season under Coach Bobby Hurley. The Sun Devils have defeated Texas A&M and Nevada Las Vegas and played Arizona close in their conference opener before Hurley was ejected in the final minutes of the game. USC dispatched Arizona State on Thursday, 75-65. Guard Tra Holder paces the team with an average of 15.6 points a game.

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