UCLA men’s basketball head coach Steve Alford spoke to the media Thursday evening, and addressed both recent and upcoming games. Alford definitely looked pleased with how the team was progressing, but also said they needed to continue to get better. UCLA students are in the middle of finals, so this week was not going to be easy to get practices in to prepare for the upcoming game against Michigan. He said the team enjoyed their victory over Kentucky for 48 hours, but then it was back to business.
While speaking about this year’s successes, the media asked Alford about last year and how much different the team is this year. I was pretty shocked about how frankly Alford spoke about last season. He not only admitted to missing out on recruits, but also to mishandling the team from Christmas forward. He said this team is unique in their ability to move the ball and their selfless play-which is evident by their extremely high number of assists per game.
The subject of the Kentucky trip continued to come up during the press conference, and Alford said they actually held the plane until they could start the trip off with an 8 Clap. He wants the team to enjoy winning so “when you get hit in the mouth”, as he puts it, it really hurts and they won’t like it. He spoke of their success on offense off the backboard and also praised their production off the bench. He was not, however, happy with their turnover numbers, but most came in the first ten minutes of the game and then the team managed to settle in. They were also not as productive as he would have liked on the foul line, and also pointed out breakdowns defensively during transitions. He continued to reference areas where they needed to improve and stated the importance of not letting down because they have tough opponents coming up, namely Michigan.
Another area that Alford commended was the efforts of individuals off the court. He said he was late to the press conference because he was tied up watching game film with some of his players and said they are continuing to push to improve as individuals.
On the injury front, Alex Olesinski is out of his boot, but still 10-14 days out from practicing, and Prince Ali is still out for another two to three weeks. Their reappearance on the court during games will all depend on how they can get back to practicing.
The media also asked about minutes for starting players, and how that compared to last year and their ability to balance that out. He said they really start six guys and their ability to balance out the minutes amongst more players is contributing to the team’s overall efficiency. Last year, Isaac and Bryce were near 38 minutes per game, but with four guards able to play, he is getting it closer to 30 minutes. He credited Lonzo Ball with the ability to “play forever”.
Finally, he talked about how this team has not faced true adversity yet. I think he is really trying to keep the #2 ranking in perspective, because it is unlikely that this team will run the table, so they haven’t come upon the need to bounce back from a loss. They have handled mild in-game adversity, namely against Texas A&M and Nebraska, but without a loss yet, they have had no real set backs yet. He credits motivated veterans and an amazing 2016 class that has kept this team running so well so far.
Here is the full video of the press conference, courtesy of UCLA Athletics on YouTube.
And here are interviews with Bryce Alford, T.J. Leaf, and Lonzo Ball: