LOS ANGELES — Bryce Alford lifted his warmup jersey to wipe his watery eyes. His father and coach, Steve Alford, had tears, too.
The third-ranked Bruins were an emotional mess before the game tipped off on Senior Night. It showed in the early going until they got their act together in the second half to beat Washington State 77-68 on Saturday night for their ninth straight win and a 16-1 finish at home.
“No one really warned me it was going to be like that,” the younger Alford said. “I was not ready for that at all. Kind of got me out of rhythm. The amount of emotion kind of drains you before the game and it’s hard to refocus.”
The Bruins shot 44 percent, a rare struggle this season, and didn’t clamp down until a 14-0 run over the final 10 minutes to earn their 28th victory, tying the 2007-08 team for most in a regular season.
Aaron Holiday scored 16 points, Isaac Hamilton added 14 and Thomas Welsh had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Bruins (28-3, 15-3 Pac-12), who played without injured TJ Leaf. He wore a walking boot to protect his sprained left ankle and his No. 22 jersey over a gray hoodie while sitting on the bench.
Lonzo Ball had 12 points and 14 assists to break Gary Payton’s freshman Pac-12 assist record in what many believe was his last game at Pauley Pavilion. The touted freshman is expected to leave early for the NBA draft.
“I just felt for the seniors. They’ve been here the last four years. I’ve been here one year,” Ball said. “So far, I’m not looking back at it. There’s a lot of season left.”
Bryce Alford finished with 13 points and made two 3-pointers, tying Jason Kapono’s school career record with 317.
Charles Callison led the Cougars (13-17, 6-12) with 25 points. Josh Hawkinson added 16 points and 14 rebounds, becoming the school’s career rebounding leader with 1,003.
“We hung with them for three-fourths of the game and we just ran out of energy the last eight minutes,” Hawkinson said. “We just let down our guard and I think that helped them win.”
Hawkinson scored six straight points and Callison hit a 3-pointer that put the Cougars ahead 47-44. The Bruins missed eight of 10 shots during a 4 1/2-minute stretch and trailed 51-50.
Bryce Alford made a 3-pointer to launch the 14-0 run that gave UCLA a 64-51 lead. Ike Anigbogu came up with a big block of WSU’s Robert Franks as he was going in for what appeared to be a wide-open dunk.
“We just missed a lot of our shots,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said. “If we were to have made half of them, that’s the difference in the game.”
Callison scored 13 of the Cougars’ final 17 points while the Bruins went 3 of 5 from the free throw line in the closing minutes.
The Cougars closed the first half on a 16-9 run to trail 35-34. Alford missed two 3-point attempts, airballing the first one, and Hamilton’s layup at the buzzer was declared no good.
Washington State: The Cougars head into postseason play having lost two in a row and seven of nine and don’t figure to hang around long. They tied for ninth with Stanford in the league standings, but the Cardinal earned the No. 9 seed by virtue of their win over WSU.
UCLA: The Bruins enter next week’s Pac-12 Tournament as the league’s hottest team, but they could run into No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona in Las Vegas. They lost to both teams during the regular season as well as crosstown rival USC.
The elder Alford said he expects Leaf to play in the Pac-12 Tournament. By then, the freshman will have had a week’s worth of rest after injuring his ankle last Wednesday against Washington.
The court was crowded when the younger Alford was introduced. In addition to his coach-father and mother Tanya, brother Kory, sister Kayla, grandparents Sam and Sharan Alford, his uncle and his girlfriend were on hand. Also bidding farewell to Pauley were seniors Hamilton and Jerrold Smith, who has played a total of 33 minutes in his career.
The 1966-67 UCLA team that went 30-0 and won the national championship under coach John Wooden was honored at halftime on its 50th anniversary. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lucius Allen and team captain Mike Warren were on hand. They were part of Wooden’s second undefeated team.
Washington State: The 10th-seeded Cougars will play Colorado in an opening-round game at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
UCLA: The third-seeded Bruins will play either USC or Washington in the tournament quarterfinals Thursday.