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Alford still perfect as UCLA tops Northwestern

The SportsXchange

LAS VEGAS -- Steve Alford seemed almost embarrassed when the topic of his new record came up following UCLA's 95-79 victory over Northwestern in the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday night.

The win improved the hot-shooting Bruins to 7-0, the best start for a first-year coach in UCLA's storied basketball history. The old mark was 6-0 by some guy named John Wooden in 1948-49.

"No, no," Alford laughed when asked if it was a huge stat. "It's a little different than 88 (straight wins) and 10 national titles."

It's doubtful if anybody will ever match those eye-popping stats achieved by the Wizard of Westwood back in the 60's and 70's. But the fact Alford was able to at least erase one of Wooden's records in his first month at UCLA no doubt will help take a little of the pressure off what was viewed as a controversial hire by some.

"What it means is what I've said all along: it's a very humbling experience and I feel very blessed that I just have this opportunity," Alford said. "It's cool. I'm seven games in now ... I've been a huge fan from afar just because of Coach Wooden and what UCLA stands for. Now to have had a month of coaching, it's pretty cool to see those UCLA letters and you're getting to lead that group. That's a lot of fun. It's exciting, and I feel very blessed."

Guards Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford each scored 18 points to lead UCLA, which jumped out to a 14-1 lead and led by as many as 25 points in the second half behind a shooting display that had many of the 24 NBA scouts in attendance at the Orleans Arena shaking their heads.

The Bruins shot 63.6 percent from the floor, including 19-of-25 (76 percent) in the first half, and narrowly missed breaking the school-single game record for 3-point percentage, connecting on 13-of-17 shots beyond the arc (76.5 percent). The record is 76.9 percent (10-of-13) set on Jan. 21, 1990, at Cal.

"We can shoot the basketball," Alford said. "I think we have a lot of guys who can shoot the basketball and stretch defenses. Because of our lineups and versatility, there are a lot of things that we can do and how we play. We're excited where the offense is but we still have to figure out combinations of how we guard."

Guard Kyle Anderson had another big night for the Bruins, narrowly missing his second triple-double in a week. Anderson finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and earned tournament MVP honors.

"He's a pretty special player," Alford said.

The Bruins and Missouri, who play each other next Saturday in Columbia, Mo., and agreed last summer not to face each other in the tournament, were declared co-championships of the Invitational Division after both went undefeated in the tourney.

Guard JerShon Cobb scored 22 points and forward Kale Abrahamson added 19 points, including 5-of-10 3-pointers, to lead Northwestern (4-4).

"It's tough," Cobb said when asked about UCLA's near-record 3-point shooting performance. "We contested a lot of those and they still made it. It's tough when you think you've played good 'D' and they still make the shot anyway."

UCLA, which connected on 22 of its first 31 field goals, finished shooting 63.6 percent from the floor.

UCLA, which jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the first five minutes, led by as many as 19 points in the first half en route to a 51-38 halftime lead.

The Bruins, who came into the game shooting 54.4 percent from the floor, connected on 19 of their first 23 shots, including 9-of-11 (81.8 percent) from 3-point range.

Bryce Alford, the freshman son of UCLA coach Steve Alford, led the way with 11 points, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range, and Anderson added 10 points and seven assists.

The Bruins missed their final two shots of the half and had to settle for shooting 76 percent from the floor.

Northwestern bounced back from its slow start -- the Wildcats missed their first five shots from the field -- and also shot well, connecting of 8-of-19 first-half 3-pointers (42.1 percent). Cobb closed the half with back-to-back treys to cut UCLA's lead to 13 at the intermission.

NOTES: Northwestern played without top scorer Drew Crawford, who sat out the game with back spasms that forced him to leave Thursday night's 78-67 loss to Missouri. ... UCLA came into the game leading the Pac-12 Conference in assists (20.5), steals (10.8) and free throw percentage (76.4). ... LaVine entered the game leading all Pac-12 freshmen in scoring (13.7) and 3-point shooting (52.2 percent, 12-of-27). He connected on 4-of-5 treys Friday night. ... This was the first meeting between UCLA and Northwestern since Jan. 24, 1969, when No. 1 UCLA overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat the Wildcats 81-67 at Chicago Stadium. UCLA had a pretty fair center on that team named Lew Alcindor, who later changed his named to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Alcindor had 35 points and 16 rebounds to pace the Bruins that night.
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