UCLA's basketball coach Steve Alford spoke with the media today ahead of the Bruin's opening round NCAA Tournament game against Southern Methodist. And though U.C.L.A and SMU haven't met since 1976, to hear Alford talk about it, the Bruins will be facing a familiar opponent all the same.
We're really comparing them to Arizona, to be honest with you. If you're looking for a team to compare them to in our league, of how they play, how they look, it's Arizona…They get a lot of paint scores. That's Arizona. They run in transition. That's Arizona. They are a tremendous rebounding team. That's Arizona. And they really guard.
How'd we do against Arizona this year? Well, not horrible, but not good enough for a W either. And that raises concerns. The Bruins will be tasked with trying to generate an offense against an SMU team that has its own strength down low. This season, the Bruins have been more effective when they capitalize on their big men inside, and that may be a tough task against the SMU bigs. Paging Tony Parker ...
We've gotta ride him. And that doesn't mean he's gotta score 25 points but he's gotta have a presence inside. The ball's gotta get to him. He's gotta make good decisions. And he's gotta defend without getting in foul trouble.
Considering that SMU inside game, Alford might be wise to consider starting off in the zone and daring them to shoot from outside, something they do not do often or too well. The Bruins were far more effective against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tourney semis playing zone, but the Wildcats talent and athleticism allowed them to exploit the Bruins "defense" before that switch and U.C.L.A. was playing catchup because of it. SMU is a very good team but few teams have the same talent that Arizona does, so Alford may be tempted to start in man again. gambling that they'll have better success against the Mustangs. We'll see.
Alford also talked about Kevon Looney and said he is good to go. That has a both a good and a bad connotation for the Bruins, however. On the good side, Alford noted that Looney is wearing the Westbrook mask now and felt very comfortable in it at practice. On the bad, Alford essentially said that Looney is playing his last game/s for U.C.L.A. this weekend.
I even asked him last night if he awaited to get some extra shots up with the mask on, just kinda messing with him. He took one shot from the corner and made it, walked off and said, "coach, it doesn't matter, mask or no mask". He's confident and he's doing a great job for us. He's just had a tremendous demeanor all year. You don't see guys like that that are, you know, first round lottery pick type guys after one year as coachable as he is….He's going to have a tremendous career.
Alford basically acknowledges that Looney is going in the draft. And for a kid whose dream is to play in the NBA, how can you hold him back from that? Would he be better staying another year and improving his game? Probably. But considering the environment at U.C.L.A. versus what he can look forward to in the Association, to say nothing of the financial security, you gotta seize that opportunity when it comes. Of course, I am still clinging to hope that Kevin Love is coming back for his sophomore year too, but is clear that Looney is one and done. Hopefully the same will not be said of the Bruins in this year's NCAA Tourney.
Alford also talks about the critics of U.C.L.A.'s Tourney bid and SMU coach Larry Brown. There has been a lot of talk this week about Brown's history with U.C.L.A., but that particular talking point could have happened with about 20 different opponents for SMU, it seems. You can watch the entire video below.