Stanford faces uphill climb vs. No. 4 UCLA

The last thing downtrodden Stanford needs is to be shorthanded against a UCLA team that is bent on rectifying itself after almost letting a big lead against California slip away Thursday.

That’s where Stanford finds itself when it plays the fourth-ranked Bruins on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The Cardinal (8-7 overall) has lost its first three games in the Pac-12 and are potentially without leading scorer and rebounder Reid Travis, who is out indefinitely after suffering a shoulder injury in practice last week. Travis averages 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. He missed the contest at USC on Thursday in the Cardinal’s 72-56 loss.

First-year coach Jerod Haase is trying to keep Stanford in a positive frame of mind despite the Cardinal committing 21 turnovers in the loss to the Trojans.

“We played well with a lot of effort and passion tonight,” Haase said. “Our guys cared and put forth a solid effort, but clearly we have a long, long way to go to reach our goals.”

After Thursday’s escape against Cal, UCLA coach Steve Alford also feels the Bruins (15-1 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) have a long way to go reach their objective of winning the Pac-12 title and advancing deep in the NCAA tournament.

UCLA led by as many as 24 points early in the second half before Cal cut the margin to five with less than one minute remaining. Two free throws each by guards Lonzo Ball and Aaron Holiday sealed the 81-71 win for the Bruins.

“If we can learn valuable lessons by still winning that shows and proves the character of those guys, which we have talked about all along,” said Alford, whose team has matched its win total from last season when it finished 15-17.

“They didn’t break. They bent a little bit but they didn’t break.”

Cal outscored UCLA, 47-37, in the second half as the Bruins shot 34.5 percent from the field and committed six of their nine turnovers after halftime.

“Are there issues?” Alford asked. “Yeah, but it’s the Pac-12 and a 10-point win. We’ve got to be real with it too. This was a really good win.”

Stanford is in the midst of playing three straight teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Cardinal opened the stretch with a 91-52 loss to No. 18 Arizona last week in Palo Alto, Calif. They will try to avoid getting swept against the Bruins after losing against the 25th-ranked Trojans.

If Travis can’t play, Haase will look to guard Dorian Pickens and post player Michael Humphrey to lead his team. Pickens averages 13.2 points a game and Humphrey is at 4.5 rebounds a game. Guard Marcus Allen was a standout against USC on Thursday with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field.

UCLA senior captain Bryce Alford, coming off a team-best 24 points against Cal, said the Bruins will not take Stanford lightly especially after their struggle against the Golden Bears in the second half Thursday.

“Each game presents you with different things you can learn,” Bryce Alford said. “Every Pac-12 game is going to be a grind for 40 minutes regardless of what you do in the first half. We have to continue to play hard.”

UCLA’s highly touted freshmen Ball and T.J. Leaf are experiencing their first run through the Pac-12.

Leaf is averaging 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in the three conference games and Ball is averaging 17 points, 6.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds.

The Bruins’ scoring output in Pac-12 games (81.3 points a game) is off the pace of their season average of 93.1 points.