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Bryce Alford known simply for playing well ... and that's a good thing

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All UCLA in win over Cal (0:41)

Lonzo Ball scores 14 points and TJ Leaf adds a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds in No. 4 UCLA's 81-71 win over California. (0:41)

He was known for hitting a 3-point game-winner that never should have counted and playing for a school because his father was the coach.

Neither of those were a good thing.

This season, Bryce Alford is known for ... well, he's not really known for anything, really, besides being a good player on a very good UCLA team.

And that is a very good thing.

Alford's ability to blend into the Bruins rather than attract attention like Ben Franklin in a field during a thunderstorm is no small part of the reason that UCLA is having the season it is. He is less of a headline but a better player this season, his 24 points in the Bruins' hold-on-for-dear-life 81-71 victory over California only the latest in a season's worth of solid games.

Alford is averaging more points per game this season (16.3 to 16.1 a year ago) but more important, is playing a lot smarter. His field goal percentage is up, his 3-point shooting percentage soaring. He connected on 8 of 13 shots and 5 of 7 3s against the Golden Bears, emblematic of the sort of work he has done all season.

Let's face it, plenty of people didn't see that coming. In fact, more wondered if Lonzo Ball's arrival would throw Alford off and create more of a backcourt of backstabbing. It was the biggest question dogging the Bruins and made for a possibility that Bryce's comfort might undermine his father's (Steve Alford) ability to save his job.

Playmakers, after all, get used to having the ball in their hands, dictating play as much as finding their own scoring spots. And guys accustomed to getting all of the attention aren't always happy to cede it. Alford not only has given up the ball and willingly slid over to the 2 spot; he has made way for Ball, contently playing second fiddle (and sometimes even third, thanks to TJ Leaf) to the freshman phenom point guard, who has soared into the national player of the year conversation.

But, as the Cal game proved, there is more than enough room for everyone on this UCLA team; plenty of scoring and highlight moments to share.

Yes, Alford's 24 led the Bruins, but he was joined by three other guys in double figures along with Ball's seven assists. You need that sort of diversity, of course, if you're going to score in the 90s every night.

The ease with which the Bruins share the ball, the general disregard for who is the star each night, is what makes UCLA so much fun to watch, so dangerous and a legit national championship contender.

It's also what makes Bryce Alford's season such a surprise, in a very good way.