Bryce Alford is developing a nice reputation as one of college basketball’s best clutch shooters.
He did it again on Thursday night.
After the UCLA Bruins had blown an 81-68 lead in the final 4:30, allowing Arizona to eventually tie the game with 10 seconds left, Alford was able to force a switch, getting a 1-on-1 opportunity against Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski.
He took advantage of it:
Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday combined for 29 points and 12 assists as UCLA picked up their second win of the season over a top ten team, beating No. 7 Arizona 87-84 in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.
But Alford was the story. He finished with 25 points, six assists, four rebounds and no turnovers, putting together one of his best games of the season despite playing fairly poorly for the first 19 minutes. He did, however, knock down a pair of threes in the final minute of the first half — including one at the buzzer — which comes less than a week after he hit a number of clutch threes late in a game against Washington.
What made that shot so important was that it not only gave the Bruins a win over Arizona, but it was also the first Pac-12 win of the season for UCLA. They lost in double-overtime at Washington last Friday and, 48 hours later, lost to Pac-12 cellar dweller Washington State.
That’s what makes nights like Thursday so confounding.
UCLA is the most talented team in the Pac-12. They may not be the best team in the league or the favorite to take home the regular season title, but when you look at their roster on paper and compare it to the rosters of every other team in the conference, the Bruins look like they should be the best. They definitely shouldn’t be getting swept by the Washington schools, let alone losing to Monmouth at home.
Why can’t they play like this more often?
The collapse in the final four minutes was worrisome, yes, but focusing on that would ignore the fact that UCLA totally outplayed Arizona for the first 36 minutes of this game. Just like they totally outplayed then-No. 1 Kentucky, who lost by double-digits at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins also won at Gonzaga this year.
What is it about this team that they can’t get up for a game unless they are playing one of the nation’s elite programs?
Youth? A lack of leadership? Do they need there to be fans packing the stands to get up for a game?
I don’t know what it is.
But Peak UCLA looks like they can be pretty good.
As far as Arizona is concerned, this loss shouldn’t be overly concerning. The Wildcats struggle at times and really did not look like a top ten team, but they were also playing on the road in a rivalry game where Russell Westbrook was getting honored and brought all of his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates with him. If UCLA only shows up when people show up to watch, you know they’re going to play like this when Russ brings Kevin Durant to a game.
To be frank, I think this performance reinforces that Arizona doesn’t have top ten talent this year. Sean Miller is getting as much out of this group that he can, and I don’t think that’s going to change — they’re still my pick to win the conference — but I’m not sure that will end up translating to more than a Sweet 16 come March.