Isaac HAmilton

AP

VIDEO: Bryce Alford’s three gives UCLA a win over No. 7 Arizona

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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.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Javan Felix’s big shot, Wichita State’s bigger week

AP Photo/Michael Thomas
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Javan Felix, Texas

Before we get into what it means, let’s talk for a minute about what actually happened. Texas upset No. 3 North Carolina, 84-82, in a game where their defense didn’t do all that much to slow down the Tar Heels. They won because they were able to keep UNC’s big men in check — specifically off the offensive glass — and because they shot the lights out, no one more so than Felix. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting, hitting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, but his biggest shot of the day may or may not have come with time left on the clock. A missed Isaiah Taylor jumper happened to bounce out to Felix who buried an 18-footer than came a split-second before the buzzer.

This is a critical win for the Longhorns for a couple reasons. For starters, it’s the kind of non-conference victory that is going to look really good on their résumé come tournament time. I still think North Carolina is the best team in the country, but at the very least, the Tar Heels now have a win over a team that is going to be in the top ten range all year long. That’s the difference between a 10 seed and the NIT.

But this was also the most visible non-conference game that Texas was playing. It came at home, on ESPN, against a blue-blood program on the first Saturday after yet another disappointing football season. It was always a struggle for Rick Barnes to get Texas fans fully committed to supporting the basketball team, and Shaka Smart is likely to have some of those same issues. But for a fan base desperate for a good team to root for, the timing of this win in this fashion could not have been more perfect.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin had 25 points and 11 boards in 20 minutes off the bench in a come-from-behind win over Tennessee on Saturday, which followed up a 20-points, eight-rebound performance — also in just 20 minutes — on Monday against Indiana State. Martin is averaging 23.0 points over his last three games.
  • Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Buddy Hield is the guy that gets all the attention for Oklahoma, but Cousins was the best player on the floor in their blowout win over No. 9 Villanova, finishing with 19 points, 10 assists and six boards. He followed that up with 15 points, five assists and five boards against Oral Roberts.
  • Jameel McKay, Iowa State: Iowa State came back from 20 points down to beat Iowa at home on Thursday night, and McKay was the hero in that game. He finished with 20 points, 12 boards and a pair of blocks, but it was his energy — eight of those rebounds were offensive — that changed the course of the game.
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA: Hamilton looks like he is finally living up to his billing as a top 20 recruit in the country. He scored a career-high 21 points to help the Bruins avoid an upset against LBSU and followed that up with 20 points in UCLA’s win at No. 20 Gonzaga. He also added seven assists and seven steals this week.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: Bullock came up huge for Providence this week, scoring 15 second half points in the win over Boston College and following that up with 14 points, 13 boards, four steals and three blocks in a win over Bryant. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil both missed the second half against BC and Dunn didn’t play against Bryant.
  • BENCH: Melo Trimble (Maryland), Josh Scott (Colorado), Allonzo Trier (Arizona), London Perrantes (Virginia)
Associated Press
Associated Press

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Wichita State Shockers

This week was the most important week of the regular season for the Shockers. Having lost four of their first six games, Wichita State was in a position where they not only needed to prove — to themselves, to their fans, to the media — that their early season losses were a direct result of injuries to the likes of Fred VanVleet and Anton Grady, but they needed to start building a résumé that would give them a chance to play in the NCAA tournament this season if they don’t happen to win the Missouri Valley’s at-large bid.

And they did just that.

On Wednesday, the Shockers beat a talented UNLV team and followed that up by blowing out No. 25 Utah. In total, the Shockers gave up 100 points on the week, playing the kind of physical half court defense that we’ve become accustomed to from Gregg Marshall coached teams. VanVleet doesn’t quite look like he’s totally himself yet, but he had bursts in both games where it was quite obvious his hamstring is feeling better than it did prior to the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

As of this moment, Wichita State is probably back to being one of the top 15-20 teams in the country, particularly if guys like Zach Brown and Markus McDuffie are going to play the way they did on Saturday.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Xavier Musketeers: Did anyone make a bigger statement this weekend than Xavier? The Musketeers totally blew the doors off of arch-rival Cincinnati, a pretty good team in their own right this season. The Muskies look like a legitimate title contender.
  • UCLA Bruins: The Bruins may be the most confounding team in the country. They lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got their doors blown off by Kansas. They also beat then-No. 1 Kentucky and, on Saturday, went into Spokane and beat No. 20 Gonzaga at the Kennel. Are you buying them yet?
  • Marquette Golden Eagles: Even if Marquette misses the NCAA tournament this season, their season will be considered somewhat of a success as the Golden Eagles picked off in-state rival Wisconsin in the Kohl Center on Saturday. They seem to have made a renewed commitment to getting the ball into the paint.
  • Boise State Broncos: It’s been tough-sledding for Boise State early on this season, but the Broncos picked up two big wins this week. It started when they avoided getting upset by Loyola Marymount and ended with a win over No. 24 Oregon in Boise, a win that is only going to look better as the season progresses.
  • Chattanooga Moccasins: Not only did the Mocs go into Dayton Arena and knock off the Flyers on Saturday, they did it without their best player, Casey Jones. In his first season as head coach, Matt McCall has now landed wins over Georgia, Illinois and Dayton. Not bad.
  • SMU Mustangs: In their only game this week, the Mustangs pounded Michigan. It really is a shame this team is banned from the tournament, because they are certainly capable of getting to a Final Four this year.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 25 Utah vs. No. 8 Duke, Sat. 12:00
  • No. 9 Villanova at No. 10 Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 1 Michigan State at Northeastern, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 3 North Carolina vs. UCLA, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
  • Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Cincinnati at VCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 Butler vs. No. 11 Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • No. 16 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:00 p.m.
  • UNLV at No. 13 Arizona, Sat. 9:30 p.m.

After Gonzaga win, are we ready to buy UCLA yet?

AP Photo/Young Kwak
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Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford combined for 33 points and six assists, committing just a pair of turnovers on the night, as UCLA landed their second big win of the season, going into Spokane and knocking off No. 20 Gonzaga at The Kennel, 71-66.

And while it was the back court that made the big plays for Steve Alford’s team, the star of the second half was Tony Parker. The 6-foot-9 senior center was dominant during a stretch where the Bruins extended their lead to as much as eight points. He finished with 16 points and made his first eight shots from the field, overpowering a Gonzaga front line that is beat up.

Prezemek Karnowski did not play again. The 7-foot-1 center — by far Gonzaga’s best low post defensive presence — has been dealing with back spasms for the last week. He didn’t play in the loss to Arizona and he missed the near-loss to Montana. Domantas Sabonis played well — 18 points and eight boards — but he’s just not the same presence as Karnowski is.

Kyle Wiltjer began the game on fire, hitting threes on three straight possessions, before Steve Alford made a switch. Initially, Parker was guarding Wiltjer, but Alford put Jonah Bolden in the game. Bolden is 6-foot-10 and long but he’s far more athletic and mobile than Parker is. That switch made a difference; Wiltjer finished with 20 points, but shot just 4-for-12 from the floor the rest of the way. Bolden finished with 10 points and 11 boards in 30 minutes, by far his best game in a Bruin uniform.

So what do we make of UCLA?

I’m seriously asking you.

Because I don’t really know.

They beat Kentucky … when Kentucky was missing their best big man and their starting point guard was banged up. They won at Gonzaga — who isn’t really the typical Gonzaga this season — while they were missing their best big man. They’ve lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got worked over by Kansas.

There is a ton of talent on that roster in a year where the Pac-12 is wide open, but I can’t convince myself to fully trust this team just yet.