Unfortunately, this week’s press conference wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the past few, probably due to the fact that we’ve won two games in a row and head coach Steve Alford really didn’t have any tough questions to answer.
It’s pretty clear that the further we get into the season that Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands are playing at a higher level. Alford stated that we are playing eight guys and, with three of them being freshmen, it helps the team as a whole if the freshmen do well. Kris has been consistent and Jaylen is getting there—improving both defensively and in decision making.
We’ve had a new four guard starting lineup for the last couple of games and I got the feeling that the media wanted him to say that this was the new normal and previous starters were now going to come off the bench. Alford said he’s looking at staying with these guys as well as how we start and finish games. He likes the four guard lineup and what was coming off the bench. Sounds to me like it’s working but he stayed noncommittal.
In the last two games, aside from looking better overall, we also had a few highlight caliber plays. Alford said that we get more stops when we do what we need to do both offensively and defensively and we’ve always done well in transition. If we can get the ball back without having to take it out, we don’t allow defenses to get set. We can then proceed with the offensive game plan with a better chance of scoring. I had to cringe though when he went on to say we are, “learning through trial and error.” Trial by fire? Looked like it a couple of weeks ago. I’d rather just have a systematic approach to winning, but I’m not making millions as a coach so I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
The team clearly responded well to coming home after a pretty miserable trip to Oregon, but we will have one of the toughest tests of the season coming up. Southern Cal’s size measures up pretty evenly with us, but their athleticism will be a challenge. The Trojans have a lot of talented guys that can shoot. Alford said that, in his opinion, the two teams that are talented top to bottom are Arizona and Southern Cal, and that’s what makes them hard to guard. I honestly believe that anything can happen in a rivalry game and we can’t lay down for this one bit. We need to look rested with a hard and fast gameplan on how to demolish these guys.
Gyorgy Goloman has played well in last two games, both offensively and defensively. Alford said GG has a high basketball I.Q. and has improved since he was benched. Unfortunately, it appears that the four guard lineup took Kris Wilkes out of rhythm, due to the fact that he racked up a few fouls early in the last game. He learned to adapt and eventually settled in. So, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the same lineup on Saturday.
Clearly, we’ve had a few obstacles to overcome this season, as has Southern Cal. Alford pretty much refused to comment on their situation (which was wise) and, instead, stated that the key to persevering through a tough situation is to worry about what you can control. Aside from Thomas Welsh being a bit banged up, we have been able to avoid injuries and players like Ikenna Okwarabizie and Alec Wulff have stayed in shape and stayed sharp, never knowing when we’re going to need them. They know their role and fulfill that role to the best of their ability, which is key to maintaining our composure. The only time they looked flat was the first 15 minutes of the Colorado game.
The defensive game plan for this game is just getting better at what we do. Since the dreaded China trip, we have been practicing one way both offensively and defensively and Alford said it wouldn’t be wise to change that. We have to play well and can’t go into the game thinking we can play down and win. Southern Cal’s rhythm has gotten better. They are good at mixing man and zone defense and they can go nine deep on the roster. They play well both away and at home, so we will have to be firing on all cylinders to win this weekend.
Here is the full video, courtesy of UCLA Athletics on YouTube: