Steve Alford, Tony Parker, and Bryce Alford met with the media following the Bruins' 92-75 victory over UAB--a victory that earns UCLA a second straight Sweet Sixteen berth. From Steve Alford's opening remarks to his answer to the final question of the press conference, the narrative that emerges doesn't quite match what I've seen from the Bruins this season.
Steve Alford started the press conference by describing the Bruins' journey this year:
Extremely proud of these young men. They have really been resilient all year. They've been a team that has stuck together. We were a team three months ago that had lost five games in a row. They didn't listen to the noise then. They listened in the locker room. They stayed together. They really fought to get better in practice. They competed like crazy. They're proof that, if you're resilient and you persevere when tough times hit, good things can eventually happen.
Alford then continues with this gem:
No team is more rewarded and deserving than this team.
Frankly, I think it's pretty difficult to make the case that none of the other 67 teams invited to participate in the tournament are more deserving, or that none of the other 15 teams that will advance to the Sweet Sixteen are more deserving.
And at the end of his opening statement, Alford undercuts his claim that the Bruins are most deserving:
One of the things they [the Bruins] haven't been able to do is win two games away from Pauley (Pavilion) in a row, and there's no better time to do that than March.
Winning two road (or neutral site) games in a row isn't an outstanding achievement, so the fact that his team was unable to accomplish that feat is at odds with Alford's assertion that this team is more deserving than any other team.
Later, in response to a question about UCLA's inside-outside balanced attack against UAB, Alford indicates that balanced scoring has been the norm for this team:
Five guys in double figures in our starting lineup, that's kind of who we've been all year.
But is that true? Looking just at UCLA's 18 regular season Pac-12 games, the Bruins had five guys score in double figures only three times; that equals the number of times that UCLA had two or fewer players scoring 10 or more points. In other words, the balanced scoring we saw against UAB was atypical.
Alford also repeated one of the excuses that we've heard whenever the Bruins have struggled this season--that this is a young, inexperienced team. But that claim overlooks the fact that three of our starters (Norman Powell, Tony Parker, and Bryce Alford) played significant roles last year and have previous tournament experience. It also ignores the fact that in this era of college basketball, it's not unusual for a team to have freshmen playing major minutes and making large contributions. Relatively speaking, this isn't a young, inexperienced team.
Aside from those curious statements by Steve Alford, the rest of his answers consisted of somewhat predictable responses to predictable questions.
In response to a question about UCLA's inside-outside strategy, Alford credited Tony Parker for taking the ball to the rim:
We were able to establish paint scorers. We didn't know if they were going to double Tony or not. Teams have mixed that up on us. So we were prepared either way. When he got single coverage, then it was on Tony. We got him the ball -- and it wasn't just Bryce. Isaac got him the ball. Norman got him the ball. We did a really good job of getting it to the rim, and then Tony really finished well. Other than his first move in the second half, that was a fadeaway on a right block, everything was to the rim.
Alford also acknowledges the importance of rebounding in UCLA's strong first half:
We thought going into the game the board play would be the biggest. Halftime we were up 13 on the glass.
Tony Parker was quick to credit Norman Powell for extending the Blazers' defense, and Kevon Looney for working the offensive glass:
[The Blazers] weren't doubling. They didn't pack it in. They had to get out on the shooters. Norm (Norman Powell) hit two 3s early, so it really helped us out in the paint, and we were able to get good looks. Kevon was able to get my misses, and I was able to get his, and that helped us out a lot.
The highlight of the press conference came from Parker. In response to a question about Bryce's evolution as a passer, Tony deadpanned this reply:
[Bryce] has that in his game. Coach Alford didn't pass much. So I think Bryce focuses on being a better passer than him. That's big time for us. He passed the ball really, really well today. He always does to me.
Expect Thomas Welsh to be the starter next game.