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Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Bryce Alford has lesser role, but greater impact for UCLA
mar 13, 2017 | clay fowler |o.c. register | ARTICLE LINK
It’s not either of the impending lottery picks. Nor is it any of the other future NBA players on UCLA’s roster.
Bryce Alford is still the alpha.
The player who proclaimed himself short and slow – at least compared to his teammates – is the one who finished the regular season as the leading scorer for the then-No. 3 team in the country.
When five-star freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf slipped on their UCLA uniforms for the first time, the question wasn’t whether Alford’s role would be reduced, it was simply a measure of how much.
Aside from the two projected lottery picks sure to reduce his imprint, Alford’s classmate Isaac Hamilton was the top returning scorer in the Pac-12.
The other member of the starting lineup, 7-foot center Thomas Welsh, averaged double figures as a fast-emerging sophomore last season. Even UCLA’s sixth man, sophomore Aaron Holiday, is a better defender than Alford and was proving himself a better point guard than the coach’s son last season.
So, where did that leave Alford?
Right where he wants to be, apparently.
Besides maintaining his role as the unquestioned vocal leader of the team, all the senior has done this season is ascend to No. 5 on UCLA’s career scoring list and surpass Jason Kapono as the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers.
Yes, Alford’s shooting volume has been reduced – by two attempts per game from last season, to be exact. But the best shooting percentages of his career have left his scoring average three-tenths of a point behind last season’s career-high 16.1 points per game.
Alford has reduced his role, but he hasn’t lessened his impact. That is exactly why UCLA needs him back on track.
He is entering UCLA’s NCAA Tournament opener against Kent State on Friday coming off his worst three-game stretch of the season.
“I don't want to make any excuses. Obviously I've had a stretch here of two or three games where I haven't shot as well as I have all year,” Alford said. “I'm a confident guy. I don't like to make excuses of senior night having that effect. I just missed some open shots I normally make and hopefully I can just get back to what I was doing earlier.”
Alford’s performance on senior night was his best of the last three games. On March 4, he shot 33 percent in a win over Washington State.
He shot 20 percent from the field and scored eight points in UCLA’s two-point win over USC on Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals and dipped to 17 percent and five points in a semifinal loss to Arizona.
Alford made an astounding 49 percent of his 3-pointers in Pac-12 play this season, but limped past Kapono’s career mark of 317 made shots from beyond the arc. Alford now has 320, but is just 5 for his last 25 from 3-point range.
He has also shattered his own single-season record of 93 3-pointers during this historic season. Alford has 107 and counting.
After shooting 41 percent from deep in UCLA’s first two meetings with Arizona, he will enter the NCAA Tournament with a bad taste in his mouth after a 1-for-10 performance from 3-point range against the Wildcats on Friday.
Of course, it wasn’t just Alford who struggled in the Pac-12 tournament. The team with the best field-goal percentage in college basketball this season saved its two worst shooting performances for the final two games before the NCAA tournament.
UCLA is shooting 51.9 percent this season. It shot 41.2 percent against USC on Thursday, its worst mark of the season before Friday’s 40.7 percent against Arizona.
Alford is just one of many players coming off uncharacteristic struggles for the highest-scoring team in the nation.
UCLA coach Steve Alford is expecting him to show resolve at the most important time of the year - and for the rest of the Bruins to follow their leader.
“You get to the NCAA tournament and it’s about having that tough mindset of dealing with those things and doing what you do best,” Steve Alford said. “And if that’s off, then you have to do some other things. And I fully anticipate him and everybody else will bounce back.”