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UCLA Men’s Basketball: Steve Alford Discusses Notre Dame Rivalry

When UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford met the media this week, he spoke about how his team has been improving along with why it made sense to renew the rivalry with the Fighting Irish.

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When UCLA Bruins men’s basketball coach Steve Alford addressed the media this week, he was immediately asked about two players that are out due to medical issues. Shareef O’Neal is scheduled to have surgery surgery next week. While Alford didn’t seem too worried about the procedure, he told reporters they’d have to refer to the medical professionals for definitive answers to their questions. Additionally, Alex Olesinski is out of the boot on his foot and is slated to return to action in late December or early January.

Ben Bolch of the LA Times asked Alford about the team’s three-point shooting.

I don’t really look at percentage as much as what kind of threes we we’re shooting them...who’s shooting them...that kind of thing. Right now, we’re not shooting as high as I’d like to shoot it. I do like the ones in the last three games. How we’re getting them and the shots we’re getting have been good.

Alford also spoke about how the team has played well over the past three games. He said:

I like the inside-out that’s happening now. So, there’s a lot of positives the last three games it’s happened. At least in my thinking, the last three games what we’ve done offensive, it’s been a positive.

Overall, Alford seems pleased with the progress that Chris Smith has been making. In fact, Alford gave Smith a lot of praise for the job he’s done so far this season. Alford said:

He’s been doing a great job. Chris is obviously shooting the ball well, but I like what he’s doing defensively. He’s rebounding the basketball. He’s defending well. At 6’9”, he’s very versatile. I think [he has] more assists than turnovers. If you look at last year, I think he’s almost doubled his three-point makes already. His shooting percentage is up. His free throws...he’s getting a little line more. His board play is up. His assists are up. Turnovers are down. He’s just off to...through eight games, he’s off to a really good start.

On the flip side, Kris Wilkes is only shooting 31% right now, but Alford isn’t worried.

We obviously want him to be higher. And, he’s better than 31%, just like Prince is better than a 47% foul shooter. They’re both better than that and I think as the season progresses, that’ll take care of itself.

Bolch’s next question was about assists. He mentioned that Jaylen Hands leads the conference in assists, but the team doesn’t seem to be getting assists from anyone else. Alford explained:

Our assists aren’t...we’d like to be That’s what we’ve averaged over five years and we’re not to that point yet, but, with what Jaylen’s doing, his last three games have been outstanding so we hope that that just continues...but assists has to do with made field goals and we haven’t shot the ball at the level that we normally shoot the basketball.”

Overall, he doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about that and thinks the team has played well over the past three games.

Tomorrow’s game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish certainly renews a long-standing college basketball rivalry that got discontinued during the Howland years. Alford was asked about what prompted him to renew it. Alford offered what may be the longest answer to such a basic question.

Coach Brey and I...I’ve got a lot of respect for coach. I think Mike does a tremendous job and and just the history more than anything else. He’s got a Mater Dei product [team captain Rex Pflueger]. So, maybe that helped us get them over the hump of getting us on the schedule, but it’s something that it’s one of those home-and-homes. Being out West, when you look at home-and-homes, there’s just not there’s not a lot that intrigued me. We’ve done the Gonzaga home-and-home, which I really liked and that could be something potentially we get back into, but these home-and-homes that are a long way away...that becomes problematic for us with travel and losing three hours. So, it’s got to be the right home-and-home when we get out of the West and Notre makes so much sense. One, it’s a great school. There’s a lot of tradition...a lot of rich history between Notre Dame and UCLA and, being in a conference like the ACC....All that’s just going to help you down the road. So, they’re a motion team. We’re a motion team. [They play] predominantly man-to-man defense like we are. So, it’s a lot of similarities to [us]. When we pair up against them, we’ll get a good litmus test of where we are.

Thanks to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News for sharing the full video of Steve Alford’s interview.

And here are interviews from Prince Ali, Chris Smith, and Jules Bernard. It’s interesting to hear Ali’s perspective on Notre Dame at the beginning of the video. Thanks to UCLA Athletics for sharing these interviews.

Go Bruins!