mar 14, 2017 | BEN BOLCH | THE L.A. TIMES | ARTICLE LINK
Isaac Hamilton was like four quarters that jangled back into the coin hopper after UCLA had lost nearly everything in Las Vegas.
The senior managed two strong performances in what was an otherwise dreadful Pac-12 Conference tournament for the Bruins guards, which could have a carryover effect for the veteran in far more meaningful games.
Hamilton is perhaps UCLA’s streakiest player, but he is on the upswing as the third-seeded Bruins (29-4) head into their NCAA tournament opener against 14th-seeded Kent State (22-13) on Friday evening at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Hamilton averaged a team-leading 21.0 points against USC and Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament, making 53.6% of his shots. The numbers weren’t nearly as palatable for fellow guards Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday, who shot a combined 22.1% in those games.
“We haven’t had very many games of that, to where we’ve had multiple guards not perform well,” Coach Steve Alford said Tuesday. “It’s usually been one guy hadn’t had a good game and three guys lift him up.”
Hamilton was doing most of the boosting at T-Mobile Arena, making a floater against the Trojans that gave the Bruins a late five-point lead in an eventual two-point victory. He also made five of his team’s 13 three-pointers in the two games.
“I think I was just in great rhythm, got a lot of open looks and they fell,” Hamilton said, “so just continue to do it and maintain it all of March.”
Hamilton thrived for most of November and December, averaging 16.8 points and scoring in double figures in every nonconference game. His scoring average dipped to 11.4 points in Pac-12 play, when he scored in single figures eight times and made only 31.2% of his three-pointers.
He’s averaged 17.8 points over his last four games.
“It puts you at a state that you can make shots now,” Hamilton said of his recent strong play. “You look at shots and now your confidence is at an all-time high. Now it’s just maintaining it.”
New bawl game
Bryce Alford openly cried on Senior Night, caught in the emotion of his final home game. Every game since has made him want to weep some more.
The senior shooting guard followed his four-for-12 shooting against Washington State on March 4 at Pauley Pavilion with a two-for-10 clunker against USC and an even more egregious two for 12 against Arizona. Collectively, Alford has made 25% of his shots and 20% of his three-pointers over his last three games.
His father suggested that the sentimentality of Bryce’s final home game followed him to the Pac-12 tournament.
“I thought he got some really good looks that he normally does make and he was out of rhythm a little bit,” Steve Alford said.
“But I think a lot of that has to do with just the emotion of Senior Night and beyond, there was just so much about it and sometimes that can get you a little bit out of rhythm and I’ve talked to him about that.”
Bryce preferred not to blame anything but his play.
“I just missed some open shots I normally make,” he said, “and hopefully I can just get back to what I was doing earlier.”
Before practice Tuesday, Ball was wearing white tape around the left thumb that was strained against Arizona, but Steve Alford said the point guard was “doing much better.” Alford used the same phrase to describe power forward TJ Leaf, who averaged 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the Pac-12 tournament after sitting out most of the previous two games because of a sprained left ankle. … Tickets for the second session of games Friday at the Golden 1 Center, including UCLA’s matchup with Kent State, were selling for as low as $73 on the secondary market as of Tuesday afternoon, according to TicketIQ. That price is $3 below face value. The ticket search company also said there were more than 700 tickets available, with an average asking price of $208 per ticket. … UCLA will hold an open practice that is free to the public between 5:10 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. on Thursday at the Golden 1 Center.