There is no more controversial figure in UCLA sports than Bryce Alford. I cannot remember the last time a UCLA player has piqued such passion and anger from alumni, fans and even the media. I have always strived to write about Bryce as Class of 66 once suggested, "treat him as if the name on the back of his jersey was Smith."
But the problem is I can't do it. There are too many times when one has to wonder if the decisions of Coach Steve Alford were made with not for the best of UCLA and its players but to favor Bryce Alford as his son.
On the other hand, Bryce is a very good basketball player who never gets a break. On a list that includes great three point shooters like Reggie Miller, Tracy Murray, Jason Kapono, and Michael Roll, Bryce set the UCLA record for three point makes in a season last year.
This wasn't a record run up against patsies or Isaac Hamilton's 36 point game against the clown car coached Just SC, he went 9-11 from three in the first round of the NCAA tournament against a well-coached Larry Brown SMU team. He did it with the bright lights.
And the kid never gets a break. I can't remember another time when a player had such a great game as Bryce did against SMU in the tournament and the player gets virtually no credit for it. The ESPN summary article waits until the 11th paragraph to even mention Bryce's great game. After the game EVERYONE was talking about the goaltending call on his last three pointer. Forget the fact he was 8-10 without that shot. Forget the fact that none of UCLA's greats have put up any kind of three point numbers like that in that big a game. What everyone talked about was whether or not the goaltending call was BS.
Again Bryce in that game was clutch. He hit four of his threes in the last 3:40 of the game. Bryce scored 27 of UCLA's 60 points. Shouldn't all UCLA fans embrace and love the kid?
STEVE ALFORD'S USE OF BRYCE
No. UCLA fans can't embrace and love Bryce because of the way his dad used Bryce. Bryce was amazing in the SMU game but look at the rest of his stats for that game: 0-2 from 2 point land, 1 assist and 3 turnovers. Those are not the numbers of a point guard. And that's the rub, Bryce is not a point guard and will never be one.
The SMU Game is an example of many things. Just as the SMU game should shut the haters of Bryce Alford up about whether Bryce is "good enough to play for UCLA," it gives fuel to the fire of the critics of Steve Alford.
Let's go point by point
1. Fact: Bryce is not a point guard.
There is one person who has never been able to figure that out Bryce is not a point guard, that person is Steve Alford. Depending on what you believe, Steve Alford's decision that Bryce is a point guard hurt us when he "unrecruited" Alerick Freeman, refused to let Zach LaVine be a backup point guard, keep Bryce in as point guard and Kyle Anderson on the bench during crucial minutes of the sweet 16 game against Florida in 2014, failed to recruit a point guard last season, and did not understand (or make the effort if you are a conspiracy type) to ensure Jon Octeus or someone similar could play for UCLA.
In all 14 UCLA losses last season the lack of a point guard was key factor. In all but one of UCLA's 14 losses in 2014-15, UCLA as a team had more turnovers than assists. (The only exception was the Alabama game where UCLA had a measly 9 assists but only 7 turnovers.) UCLA's lack of a point guard killed them.
On paper this was a good offensive team, good outside shooting, good post play, a good offensive rebounder, etc. The lack of a point guard led to the problems on offense including being shut out for most of the first half by Kentucky and held to a record low 15 points in a half against Utah.
2. Bryce should never have been the number one option offense.
Until February 5 of last season Bryce led UCLA in shot attempts. This is rarely a good thing for a point guard to lead a team in shot attempts. It also a bad when this point guard is taking shots away from a clearly better player in Norman Powell.
That does not tell the whole story. If you look at UCLA losses before 2/5 Bryce shot more than Norman 6 times in those first nine losses. The three times he did not two of which were special cases. One was the Kentucky debacle where Bryce couldn't even get a shot off and the other was a game without Tony Parker against Oregon State in which they both shot a heck of a lot (18 and 15). Only in the Colorado Game where Norman shot 20 times to Bryce's 16 (of which he made 2) did Norman really straight up out shoot Norman in the early season losses.
Moreover, in two of the close losses it was Bryce missing the key shots that cost of the game.
- Against Alabama out of a timeout down 1 with 46 seconds left a play is called for Bryce Alford to shoot a three. Now down three with 21 seconds left Bryce again misses a three. One of these is an airball and UCLA lost the game.
- Against a Colorado team that was without their best player big man Josh Scott, with 5:47 left UCLA has its last lead of the game at 49-48. For the rest of the game Bryce goes 0-3, Powell goes 3-7 (1-3 from three), and the rest of the team goes 0-2. Keep in mind this was a Colorado team without their best big, yet Parker and Welsh get no shots, Looney one and Powell mostly has to create his own.
UCLA wins those two games with a slightly different approach (and maybe the UC Berkeley game on the road).
3. Bryce is a BETTER player as a shooting guard
After the SMU game there was the following story in the fishwrap:
As UCLA's point guard, Bryce Alford hasn't always had the opportunity to rub by a screen for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. But the SMU game marked the continuation of a shift: Isaac Hamilton split the ball-handling duties, and Alford caught fire.
"I think you're seeing him get a lot more comfortable with the ball and kind of running the point a little bit," Alford said of Hamilton. "I'd say we're about 50/50 on running the point now."
Both players fit more naturally at shooting guard, but with no other options each has learned to direct the offense. When Hamilton struggled with the transition, Alford took over.
Alford is most dangerous as a spot-up shooter. At point guard, he's had to create his own shot.
About midway through the Pac-12 Conference season, Hamilton said, "as I felt more comfortable, [Coach Alford] started to move me over more and now we're starting to split that role."
Hamilton isn't a point guard either. Bryce is just a better player as a 2. UCLA became better in the latter PAC 12 because Bryce was not the only "point guard" anymore.
4. Bryce was a terrible defender who did not look well coached or that he even cared about defense.
Bryce averaged less than 2 fouls a game in the losses. A spectacularly small number for a point guard considering some of these games he was intentionally fouling late and should have been pressing. While generally I don't like to cite fouls as a "positive stat" they can show effort. The reason for Bryce's rather small foul numbers is simple. Bryce was both not good at defense and seemingly did not care.
I gave Steve Alford an A for his use of Norman Powell despite not making him the number one option until later in the year. On the flipside I have to give him an F for his use of Bryce despite Bryce having some good games. He should never had him as the primary option or point guard. He should have made Bryce play harder and smarter.
In light of what I just said do I think that Bryce is being held to a different standard?
Actually no. Bryce did not make an effort on defense and took many bad shots throughout the season rarely getting punished. He led UCLA in minutes. However, I think Isaac Hamilton, while doing better than Bryce on both fronts, also was rarely benched for bad defense or bad shots.
The better answer is it seems Steve Alford lowered the standard for the team to compensate for Bryce. Bryce led the team in minutes last season because UCLA did not have a backup guard. Although I don't buy it, one can credibly argue that Steve Alford had no choice but to play Bryce so many minutes and could not discipline Bryce (or Isaac) because he had no real other options.
That does not hold up this season. If Steve Alford does not want to hurt the team this year, he will bench Bryce for defensive purposes, take him off point, and control his shot selection. Bryce got away with murder at times last year, he should not this season.
This Thursday is basketball media day. The first question from all reporters should be about whether for the good of all UCLA basketball players will coach Steve Alford give Aaron Holiday a long look and good chance to play point guard.
The irony, or course, is one of the players hurt by Steve Alford's coaching decisions of trying Bryce at point guard is Bryce Alford.