I think we can all see it—there has been something different about the UCLA Men’s Basketball team in the month of February and one of those things has been a vast improvement on defense. Alford conducted his weekly press conference today and began by saying they are very focused right now on their upcoming game against Arizona State, even though the media was asking about Saturday’s game against Arizona for obvious reasons.
Alford actually believes that it took losing two in a row to both Arizona and Southern Cal to bring home the point that this team needed to focus more on defense. He says the team is more engaged and, now, they have film they can watch that shows how good they are in transition when they get those much-needed defensive stops.
For those of you that like numbers, the Bruins are at 96 for defensive efficiency in the month of February (according to Alford), which is a number they haven’t seen all season. As unfortunate as it sounds, I tend to think Alford may be right. They had been getting away with putting up 90+ points through December and coming away with wins, but they were forgetting what they were allowing their opponents to score.
When the thick of league play came around, the two losses proved that they had to focus just as much on defense as they do on offense. While creating that buy-in is also on the coaches, I believe the players had to see for themselves that you can’t rely on one side of the ball.
The subject of tournament seeding came up and how odd it is that UCLA is ranked #5 in the country, but slated right now to be a #4 seed. Alford doesn’t believe the team is focused much on seeding right now and they are just trying to maintain a high quality of play. There are several factors out of our control, such as what non-conference opponents have done in the remainder of the season and there is also the fact that there have not been big non-league wins like they got last year. Right now, there is a separation at the top with Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA and they are trying to maintain that as the Pac-12 tournament is just around the corner.
It was also pointed out that the NCAA released an article today that included a prop bet on who has better hair—Alford or Jay Wright.
Towards the end, Alford fielded questions regarding the mix of personalities on the team and he reiterated a point that he has made before—this team is mostly made up of soft spoken guys without huge egos. They are starting to show more fire (I believe Bryce showed that quite a bit on Saturday) and constructive emotion like that is actually helping the team sustain energy in the home stretch of the season. They just want to be humble and stay hungry.
Here is the full video of the press conference, courtesy of UCLA Athletics:
And here is Bryce Alford, Ike Anigbogu, and Thomas Welsh, courtesy of UCLA Athletics: