Tony Parker walked out of the UCLA locker room Thursday night ready with some jokes.
Only 20 minutes before, UCLA had lost to California. It was close to a mortal blow to the Bruins’ hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
But Parker was unusually upbeat. He made fun of his low free-throw percentage. He mused that opposing fans single out guard Bryce Alford because, “He’s not the best looking guy, so it’s easy to pick on him. I pick on him all the time.”
The levity, Parker said, was by design. Parker is UCLA’s only senior. His time is running out. UCLA (15-13, 6-9 Pac-12) has three games remaining to find a groove — or at least avoid the program’s fourth losing season in nearly seven decades.
Every other player will have another shot. But not Parker. So he has made an effort to lead with positivity and humor.
“I’m on their heads about it,” Parker said. “I’m talking to them about it nonstop. Don’t listen to the outside noise. Let’s play hard and do what we’ve got to do. If they see me doubting them, it’s a bad idea. So I’ve got to be the most positive and the most active about it. We’re going to make this happen.”
UCLA cannot finish in the top four in the conference standings, meaning it will not have a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins are still far away from 20 wins.
Still, Coach Steve Alford hasn’t written off an at-large bid yet.
“There’s still hope,” Steve Alford said. “You can still get this thing to 9-9 if you play hard, and make the right plays and do the right things. We can still go into the Pac-12 tournament riding some momentum.”
UCLA AT STANFORD
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Maples Pavilion, Palo Alto.
On the air: TV: Channel 11; Radio: 570.
Update: UCLA needs to win at least one of its last three games to avoid a losing record in the regular season. With one more loss, it will clinch a losing conference record. Stanford (14-12, 7-8) has collected two impressive wins in its last two home games. The Cardinal beat Oregon, 76-72, a week ago and beat USC, 84-64, on Thursday. Guard Dorian Pickens scored 25 points against the Trojans.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand