In the fifth consecutive loss, the air balls rained down. It started with Bryce Alford, who launched a shot in the first half that appeared to find nothing but air.
The Utah student section taunted him every time he touched the ball.
Then Thomas Welsh shot one clear over the rim. The taunts followed him as well.
Tony Parker shot an air ball in the second half, and then Isaac Hamilton, and then Parker again.
There were times during UCLA’s 71-39 loss to the 10th-ranked Utes that the student section didn’t have time to take a breath. The shooting was so abysmal, so widespread, and none of it went unpunished.
“We’ve got nobody that’s making anything,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “And that gets frustrating.”
The Bruins shot 28.8% from the field. They have gone four games without shooting better than 32%. Steve Alford called his team “a little bit offensively challenged right now,” and that is likely an understatement.
“It’s just frustrating when you get looks at the basket you know you make in your sleep,” senior guard Norman Powell said. “Layups. Just not falling. It’s just tough.”
In Pac-12-opener, a loss Friday at Colorado, Bryce Alford was the main culprit. Against Utah, his 0-for-10 performance was again the team’s worst, and he has now missed his last 19 shots, going 0 for 13 from three-point range in the two weekend losses.
But the contagion has spread — even to the free-throw line, where the Bruins made only eight of 15 Sunday (53.3%). Hamilton shot one for seven from the field. Kevon Looney was two for eight. Powell finished three for eight, but only after making two shots in garbage time, when the outcome was already decided.
To be fair, the game was all but decided by the end of the first half, when the Bruins trailed, 32-15. UCLA has failed to score 20 first-half points in three of its last four games.
The Utes (12-2) eclipsed that mark in the first half with two 11-point runs alone. After UCLA made the first basket of the second half, Utah scored 14 in a row to lead by 27. The eventual 32-point victory was Utah’s largest conference win since it joined the Pac-12, and the 39 points allowed were its second-fewest under Coach Larry Krystkowiak.
After the game, Steve Alford acknowledged rising frustration levels and plummeting confidence among the players. But with only eight active scholarship players, Alford has few options.
He ruled out turning to walk-ons, though he praised their work in practice.
“We’re probably not at that point,” Alford said. “That’s not going to help the confidence of others who are playing.”
The last five games have not been kind to the Bruins. They played four games away from home and three against top-10 teams.
The offense seemed to regress after a decisive (though not quite humiliating) 13-point home loss to Gonzaga.
After that, Alford said, “We got smacked pretty good in the face against Kentucky,” and then followed with disappointing performances in winnable games against Alabama and Colorado.
Sunday’s defeat gave the Bruins their first five-game losing streak since the 2009-10 season. That finished 14-18 — the last time the Bruins finished under .500.
UCLA (8-7, and 0-2 in the Pac-12) now teeters one game above .500, with difficult home games against Stanford and California — a homestand that Powell said carried extra importance.
“We’re too good shooters,” Powell said. “We’ve made big shots. It’s just staying with it, staying confident. It’s going to fall.”
UCLA needs them to fall fast. A few more losses, and it could be too late to salvage the season.