UCLA’s winless trip to the Oregon schools a month ago spurred a lineup change by coach Steve Alford.
Now with his team back in rhythm and coming off a momentous win at then-No. 13 Arizona last week, Alford has a different message in mind.
“When you’ve got three weeks left and you’re playing somebody who’s beaten you already, they’ve got your attention,” Alford said. “We’re playing two teams that have already beaten us, so it’s about trying to right that ship.”
Oregon State (13-11, 5-7 Pac-12) rocked UCLA’s boat with a 69-63 win that was decided by a 10-3 Beaver run in the last four minutes. With five regular season games left on the schedule, UCLA (17-8, 8-5) will get another shot Thursday in its seniors’ penultimate game in Pauley Pavilion.
“I feel mixed about it,” said senior forward GG Goloman. “I’m very excited. I hope we get these two wins, it’s very important for us, first of all. It just all seems so quick, it’s been four years already and it’s time to move on, but at the same time, you want to hold on to it.”
Goloman’s fellow frontcourt running mate, center Thomas Welsh, tested the NBA draft waters following last season, but decided to return for his senior year. That business decision allowed the economics major to finish his degree and also incorporate the 3-pointer into his skill set.
Welsh only attempted one 3-pointer in his first three years, and now he’s morphed into a 37.5 percent 3-point shooter on about 3.2 attempts per game.
“Bigs don’t want to come out (to the arc), so they usually hedge,” said junior guard Aaron Holiday, who’s run his fair share of pick and rolls with Welsh. “If they long hedge, I just throw it back and (Welsh) is usually open. He can knock it down at a high level, so that helps us a lot.”
Holiday and Welsh were the only UCLA players who scored double figures in their loss to Oregon State, but the Bruins’ problems extended past the offensive end that night.
They surrendered a whopping 18 offensive rebounds, and five Beavers scored in double figures. Alford said redshirt sophomore guard Prince Ali is someone who can help in both categories with his length and physicality.
Offensively, however, is where Ali has been stuck in a rut. He shot 30.4 percent on 3-pointers and 38.8 percent overall from the field in the last eight games after starting the year by making nearly 45 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and 48.8 percent of his total shots.
His struggles have also ceded his starting spot to freshman guard Jaylen Hands in the past two games.
“The shots and whether making shots or getting shots, that will come through the flow and the ball just moving,” Alford said. “But the way (Ali) can defend, the way he’s capable of rebounding at the big guard position … Prince can help us with that.”
UCLA’s win at Arizona boosted it into the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm.
Lunardi slotted the Bruins as one of the last four teams in, putting them in a position to face Kansas State in a first round play-in matchup. Palm gave UCLA a more secure status as a No. 10 seed that will face Missouri in the first round.
One major change the NCAA selection committee implemented this season is separating wins and losses based on whether they came in home, road or neutral games. In the new system, the committee recognizes that road and neutral games are harder to win, and it divides a team’s schedule into four quadrants based on opponents’ RPI.
Quadrant one includes home games against the top-30 teams, neutral games against the top-50 teams and away games against top-75 teams. Quadrant two consists of home games against the No. 31-50 teams, neutral games against the No. 51-100 teams and away games against No. 76-135 teams. Quadrant three then encompasses home games against No. 76-160 teams, neutral games against No. 101-200 teams and away games against No. 136-240 teams. Quadrant four contains the remaining games.
Another loss to Oregon State would mean UCLA has two losses in quadrant three games, a staggering blemish on an otherwise decent resume. Nonetheless, Holiday isn’t very worried about missing the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we’re going to get it done,” Holiday said Saturday. “We’ve played together, figured out we’re a great team.”