It is senior day and Bryce Alford’s last game at Pauley Pavilion. Arguably no player has been as criticized, scrutinized, and just over analyzed the last four years as much as Bryce. If you want to start an argument at Bruins Nation, the safest way to do it is to just say “Bryce Alford.” So how do you approach writing a post saluting Bryce on Senior Day?
How much of this is because he is the son of the coach? I will do a “good, the bad, and the ugly” on Bryce. But, for this, I will try a different approach. I have always tried to keep in mind what Class of 66 said at the start of Bryce’s career: he should judged as any other player would be and not as the coach’s son. For this post, I will consider just Bryce, not Bryce Alford but Bryce Bruin. So, let’s talk about Bryce Bruin’s four-year career.
From early on I have always said that Bryce is a very good shooter. With 3 three-pointers today, Bryce Alford could become the all-time UCLA leader in three-point makes. It is more than that, Bryce has hit some of the biggest shots in recent UCLA history. With apologies to the win at Rupp and the win at Arizona this season, the biggest UCLA win in the Steve Alford era may be the first round upset of 6th-seed SMU. Bryce went 9-11 from three that game, including a game winner that was goal-tended. He also hit the biggest shot last season, when he hit the winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to beat Arizona.
Bryce Bruin was more than just a three-point shooter. Bryce is leading UCLA in free throw attempts this year as he did last year. This is significant as he also led UCLA in free throw percentage his sophomore and junior years and, this year, he is arguably the best because the free throw percentage leader, Thomas Welsh, has only shot 32 in 26 games (generally, you need more attempts to qualify).
Bryce can really shoot the ball and score.
It was obvious then and was obvious to everyone but coach Steve Alford that Bryce Bruin was not a point guard. And Bryce Bruin has paid a high price for his coach’s insistence on playing him out of position. Bryce is a guy who is best shooting and playing off the ball. He is at his best thinking shot first, not pass first. While some of the increases can be attributed to Lonzo Ball, the fact of the matter is, for the first time in Bryce’s career, he is shooting over 40% from three. As a matter of fact, Bryce is shooting an outstanding 46% right now. He is tied for the lead on the second-best three-point shooting team in the country.
This obscures the rest of Bryce’s shooting: over 50% in 2-point field goal percentage (51-101) for the first time in his career. Again, Lonzo Ball deserves some of the credit but a lot of the credit goes to Bryce being off the ball. Bryce is free to do what he does best. Not just shoot but score.
On the other hand, Steve Alford forced Bryce Bruin into being a starting or backup point guard his first three seasons. UCLA fans should probably be more appreciative of the sacrifices Bryce Bruin made to play out of position as a point. It definitely impacted his offensive game. On the other hand, it is sad we only get to see the “true” Bryce on offense his senior year. Steve Alford really screwed Bryce and UCLA by not recruiting a point guard to let Bryce do what he does best. It almost cost a spot in the tourney in 2014-15 and was one of the factors that led to a losing season in 2015-16.
Thanks, Bryce Bruin, for your sacrifice but I wish you never played point.
Bryce Bruin failed to win the hearts of many UCLA fans until this season not just because the coach insisted he play out of position as a point guard but also because his defense effort was just plan atrocious and still galls many fans.
Of the top eight rotation players, Bryce is dead last in fouls. Last year of the players who played every game. He was first in minutes and last in fouls. In 2014-15, he was first in minutes again but second in fouls to only Noah Allen who only averaged 11 minutes a game. Why do I bring this up? Good defense does not involve fouling after all. Well, if you are always putting out an effort on defense you are going to foul. So, it is a small sign of how Bryce has not tried on defense.
More than a stat, Bryce has failed the eye test on defense frequently. From Bill Walton pointing out that one of Arizona’s plays against us was a clear out for Bryce’s man to attack him. This happen during the non-conference season as well. (To be clear, Bryce never covers the other team’s best player so this is not a normal thing for the opposition to do.) Or, how about Don MacLean dismissing Bryce as a preseason player of the year candidate in the Pac-12 for this season because “if you gave it to Bryce you would be rewarding a player who only plays on one half of the court.” My personal example of this is watching Bryce on defense running away from the offensive player, especially on breaks.
To his credit, Bryce Bruin started playing defense much better recently. I think that is part of the reason UCLA is back to being an elite team and completed its revenge tour beating the three teams that previously beat them. Bryce does not have the tools to be a great defender but his effort is important to ensuring everyone picks up their effort. Bryce is doing better and it is nice way to end his time at UCLA.
Of course, Bryce’s last name is not Bruin but Alford. He will always be surrounded by controversy for that reason. Fans will always wonder if Steve Alford made Bryce point guard because he was his son and not because of recruiting failures or failures in talent evaluation. Not just fans but impartial observers will wonder about the lack of defensive effort by Bryce and how that influenced the team and culture of UCLA on defense. Remember, it was Steve Alford’s former coach who derisively told Steve to get out a piece of paper and write down all he needed to know about his team and then said “D E F E N S E.”
That said, unlike other recent controversial players such as Jerime Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad, Reeves Nelson, etc. Bryce has a chance for a happy ending both personally and for the team. Bryce can leave his mark on the UCLA record book as a shooter and enter the discussion of who was the best three shooter ever at UCLA. More importantly, playing along side Lonzo Ball, he has a shot to hang a banner and that no UCLA fan or observer could ever take away from him.