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UCLA Men’s Basketball: Steve Alford Discusses Bruins’ Defensive Play

As the Bruins prepare to play the Belmont Bruins tomorrow, Steve Alford spent much of his week press conference discussing UCLA’s defense against Notre Dame.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford met with the media and the media dove right into questioning him about Shareef O’Neal’s heart surgery and, I have to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a serious look come over Alford’s face in a press conference when asked about a down player. You could really see the concern he had for one of his boys and at the time of the presser yesterday, Shareef was still in surgery. But, later on, we got this update:

It looks like Shareef is going to be just fine and we wish him all the best.

Ben Bolch of the LA Times also asked about Kris Wilkes and the cramping issues he’s had in the last two games. Alford explained that Wilkes needs to, “Eat better. Hydrate yourself better. That’s been the plan since he arrived on campus. Different players have different things they’ve gotta work on and his is hydration and nutrition.” I’m not sure this answer flies with me—are these kids left to their own devices? Why aren’t they using the same monitoring technology the football team uses? I don’t think we saw any of football players go down with cramps during a game this year. Take note, Steve.

On a more positive note, Bolch also asked about UCLA’s defense during last Saturday’s game against Notre Dame and how much defensive play had to do with the outcome of the game. “What we did defensively had a lot to do with it,” Alford said. “The last seven and a half minutes of the first half holding Notre Dame scoreless and, then, the last 3:40 of the game holding them scoreless. We were down five with three and half minutes to go without the ball and found a way to win. So, that’s the positives of the guys hopefully gaining some confidence that, when shooting’s not there or when offense is stagnant, they know how to win games.” So, clearly in addition to playing good defense, we can see that UCLA’s offense has the potential to be shut down. It isn’t something the team can always rely on and that means that defensive play has got to be a bigger priority.

Coming up tomorrow, UCLA takes on Belmont. The “other Bruins” are, according to Alford, “as good offensively as any team” UCLA will play. “They really move the ball and pass the ball at a high level.” he continued. “[It’s] a huge test for us coming out of finals.”

When asked about “common themes” when UCLA has had solid defensive stretches, Alford explained:

We were in the gaps well. We had good ball pressure. We kept people in front of us. We contested shots. We rebounded the ball....We have a high level transition game and, so, if you go to the glass, you’ve got to know that could open more transition for us and I think what we saw in the Notre Dame game {is] they opted to get back. So, it did take away our transition. Our scoring was down. So, our half-court execution has got to improve. It’s got to get better and we’re working on that, but I think it puts in the light how teams are trying to play against us. Because if you crash and we get it, then it really favors us in transition. If you get back, then you’re taking away your opportunities to get second shots. And, so, it depends on what teams do, but Belmont is going to run make, miss, or indifferent and, so, transition defense is going to be huge for us.

Moses Brown has had some issues with free throws and Alford says they will be watching film after finals are over. He said this about Brown:

He has such an explosive second jump. He is going to get fouled a lot....He’s been a little bit slower getting the ball to the rim than what he was a couple weeks ago. So we want them to be more “and ones” than they are anything else. So, he, at least, gets that dunk and that putback. We’re gonna continue get it better with our lobs to him, especially whether it be in transition or it to half-court. But, foul shooting can be a mental thing.

Alford added that he just needs to work on fixing old habits and putting that into play during game time. Alford asserts that teams are “fouling him harder” because of his missed free throws and he needs to continue adjust to the collegiate level.

Cody Riley is now back from injury and basically just started college basketball. Alford notes that he is getting in better shape and his strength is up. Alford called him a “go to guy in the post” and “a big who can play on the perimeter.” Cody will definitely be a player that makes a huge impact in the future, so it’s a matter of bringing everything on line after last year.

Finally, Ben Bolch asked about Jalen Hill, who is, of course, another big addition to the team this year. Alford calls him “a huge key for us.” Alford added:

He graded the highest defensively and, offensively, his basketball IQ of knowing when to go [and] when to pass...he did a great job in our zone of getting us a couple good shots. He does a good job...he’s probably our best screener. I thought it was one of his best games.... The biggest play of the game was Jalen Hill blocking his shot.

Here is the full video of Steve Alford’s interview, thanks to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online.

Meanwhile, Jaylen Hill and Kris Wilkes also met with the media before practice yesterday. The video of the player interviews is courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

Go Bruins!