If you were living under a rock this week, you may not have heard that the University of Arizona came under scrutiny as ESPN reported that the FBI allegedly has wiretaps of conversations where Arizona head coach Sean Miller had supposedly ensured a $100,000 payment for Deandre Ayton to play for Arizona. Miller denied everything in a press conference yesterday and, in fact, received a standing ovation when they played Stanford last night.
Well, immediately following the allegations, four-star power forward Shareef O’Neal, son of the legendary Shaquille O’Neal, decommitted from Arizona and committed to UCLA soon thereafter. Of course in their weekly press conference, the media started right in asking if the scandal has helped UCLA recruiting. Alford stated, “I don’t know how to answer that,” and pretty much blew off the questions. Instead, he reiterated the fact that recent classes have been in top 5, they recruit guys that are available and they fill personnel needs on the roster. I’m sure he was trying to be respectful of the fact that Miller is now involved in an ongoing investigation and probably wants nothing to do with any discussions of recruiting, violations, payments, etc. Who knows? Maybe (unlike me), he actually respects Miller as a coach and wanted to give the guy a break. It probably would have been pretty crappy to say, “Yeah, absolutely! We hate Arizona and we’ll take anyone who wants to jump ship!”. Instead, he redirected the conversation with a quick, “Any questions on SC? Right now, I’m done with recruiting.”
Alford had stated at the beginning of the season that Arizona and Southern Cal are the two most talented teams in the conference. Southern Cal has skilled players returning and top draft picks. It’s senior night for them, so the rivalry will be at its most bitter. The home team has won last three games, so it will be essential to put together forty good minutes of basketball with no margin of error. Keys to the game, according to Alford, are taking care of the basketball and minimizing turnovers
The Pac-12 Tournament is right around the corner, so seeding is a top priority right now. UCLA is trying to avoid playing four games in four days and having a bye for the first round will really help on the road to winning the tournament. Is UCLA a bubble team? Do we even have a shot? Winning the tournament would definitely allow us to punch a ticket so the next few basketball games need to be played darn near perfectly.
Jordan McLaughlin is one of Southern Cal’s top players. He is a senior point guard and, according to Alford, is good with the basketball and possesses a high basketball IQ. He has well over 200 assists and right around 70 turnovers, so his assist to turnover ratio is outstanding. He values possessions and good leader for the team, and has improved every year. He seems to be a player for which Alford holds a great deal of respect.
When asked about team leadership, I think we all would probably answer the question the same way Alford did. He of course names Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh as leaders, and really went into detail about Holiday. He is more vocal in the point guard position, and opponents often put their best offensive player on him. Both Welsh and Holiday play a lot of minutes, and right now they are trying to avoid having them both worn down.
To round out the press conference, the media asked if it was good tournament prep to play a rivalry game on the road right before the conference tournament. Alford said there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation—we just need to hit March playing better. UCLA clearly had lapses in Colorado and Utah that they are trying to correct, because we all know what happens in the tournament if you decide to slip up—you just go to one Sweet SIxteen after another and go home without a banner.
Here is the full press conference, courtesy of UCLA Athletics:
And here are the player interviews, also from UCLA Athletics: