THE MODERATOR:UCLA Coach Steve Alford is joining us. Comments, Coach?
COACH ALFORD: Well, we've had some good practices, we are pretty healthy with the exception of Wanaah Bail, I liked our week of practice coming into this and that's always important because, especially until a year like this where we ended the regular season on the road with two games and then you've got to go to Vegas for the entire week we've been out of town for two weeks so you want to see where the energy is and our guys have had energy all week. We had a spirited workout all week and I like where this team is at.
Q. Steve, how scary, given all your years in this tournament is the first round? I guess they call it the "second round" now, but why does it seem scary and what's the difficulty of getting past it?
COACH ALFORD: For everybody you go over two months playing the same teams. You get to play everybody in a lot of leagues either twice and then you get in the conference tournament like we just finished and you're playing Stanford and Oregon three times and then the NCAA Tournament hits and it's all new. There is a lot of people that talk about hitting a reset button and you do in a way, from your scouting and those types of things and as a player you get the freshness of playing somebody else but so does your opponent and that's why it's scary. In our game we end up getting paired with a team that is extremely hot. They won our league tournament, they won 11 in a row so that unknown, going into the Pac 12 tournament, everybody knew each other, tenancies, offense, defense, now you get in the NCAA Tournament it's all new actions. Maybe you have to guard a different system, you're be not as familiar with one another so that unknown is what ends up getting out there. It takes some teams longer to jump shot and hopefully we can adjust quickly.
Q. Coach, your first year, what has been the most difficult part of the transition to the UCLA job?
COACH ALFORD: You know, really just early on and that was early on as far as getting the team, building that trust. We took over, we only had six scholarship players, we were going to add 4 more with Zach and Noah and Bryce and Wanaah and they didn't get there until June, when summer school started because we're on a quarter system so we had three months, not quite that much, two, two and a half months to focus on those guys and maybe it was day of I don't know if it was difficult, you're at New Mexico, everything is set, it's not auto pilot but everybody knows their roles from the teams to the OP's guys to travel and academics, and you take a new job it's like starting over. You got to get your personality in there and get your ways of doing it was difficult, you're at New Mexico, everything is set, it's not auto pilot but everybody knows their roles from the teams to the opes guys to travel and academics, and you take a new job it's like starting over. You got to get your personality in there and get your ways of doing in place.
I wouldn't say difficult, you're starting a new program again. I don't care where you're at you're bringing in your own personality, your staff, and the way you like to do things, and that takes time. But it hasn't been too difficult because the people at UCLA have been great and those six guys have been tremendous in buying in from one day in listening and working toward getting better. I think this team has gotten better as the year has progressed.
Q. Steve, if you look back at 1999 when you were with Missouri State when you guys made the run to the Sweet 16 what were the elements that were in your favor that led to that Cinderella run.
COACH ALFORD: We were a 12 seed, I think, second in the league, runner up in the tournament and we got an at large bid and you got to go in playing a 4 or 5 seed so you're the underdog playing Wisconsin and Tennessee and we played well in an ugly, low scoring game against Wisconsin and had a lopsided win against a Tennessee team and we get Duke and New Jersey in the Sweet 16 game. That was a team that we had ready to do something like that. We had a legit center who could score, good guard play and we were sound defensively and we just got hot. The NCAA Tournament is a lot like that. You're coming off the last regular season games and the league championship run, tournament run and you're coming into the NCAA Tournament and you gotta shoot well. It's hard to advance in this tournament if you're not shooting well and we ended up shooting the ball pretty well going into that tournament.
Q. I know you go back far with Danny Manning, what do you like about him as a player and what do you think about him as a coach?
COACH ALFORD: Danny Manning, he was a great player but when you talk to people you will find out how great of a person he is how great of man he is. I think those are the characteristics about Danny and he's a first class man first. That speaks for himself, 15 years in the NBA, incredible career at Kansas and once he got out of the league he's been at Kansas, he went back home and he's been at Kansas as an assistant for years under Coach Self and they have done nothing but win from league championships to the NCAA Tournament, they won an NCAA Tournament so he's been part of an NCAA Tournament as a player, as an assistant and now in two short years at Tulsa. Tulsa is a good basketball school well a lot of tradition and it's not surprising they went after Danny and I think it's a tremendous marriage because I think things are working out very well but Danny, great player, great coach, even better person.
Q. I know since '99 it hasn't been as easy of a road for your teams in the NCAA Tournament. Do you think a coach can get improperly some of that postseason record can be improperly placed on a coach or does that have to do with luck?
COACH ALFORD: I think you got to look at each year. I went from Missouri State, the furthest they have ever advanced in the tournament, so that was a special team, then got to the Iowa and we had some really good teams there, we were able to win. We won two tournament championships and had another third in the finals and I said when I left there and went to New Mexico the thing that I was most upset about is that we weren't able to advance in the NCAA Tournament. I think year two we had beaten Creighton and got beat by Kentucky in round two, or vice versa, I can't remember that far back now, but that was the thing I was most upset about, that I wished our staff and teams could have advanced in the NCAA Tournament and then we go to New Mexico and take over a last place team.
It was a team that was riddled with APR issues, we changed the entire team academically and we advanced in the tournaments we were part of, we advanced in both of those and last year we were beat ten in the first round and I think Harvard is better than what everybody thought because they advanced again this year, it's about seeding, the type of team you have. At New Mexico we had one team in the three years that was healthy and deep, the other two years we were worn outgoing into the NCAA Tournament.
A lot of it you have to look at schools like that, how does your season end. For instance last year in New Mexico we played at Nevada, then at Air Force Academy, two days later we go to Vegas and we stay there five days and then the Selection Sunday is Sunday, and then we head to Utah on Thursday, and that's no disrespect to Harvard because they deserved to win that game last year against us, and this team doesn't mean we're going to play better but this team this year seems rested, we're healthy, playing on a Friday helps. We never got on an airplane, all those things, I just like the energy that this team has. We're obviously playing a "hot" team and doesn't mean we're going to win but I like where this team is going into the NCAA Tournament?
Q. Because of what happened last year, different team, different season. Do you feel yourself as a coach saying I'll do something different this year, different mail times, different buses, did you search for anything little off the court that could prevent what happened last year from happening this year?
COACH ALFORD: Yeah, every team you've got to manage differently because you got different personalities. We talked last year, that New Mexico team and I hate the word "overachieving" but that team was one year out and now you're seeing it this year, Coach Neal has done a tremendous job but we had no seniors in the starting lineup, so we felt like it was a year still coming. That team was incredibly consistent and a lot of fun to coach.
I don't know if we've done anything different coming into this. This team I thought needed loosening up coming into the Pac 12 tournament and we have tried to loosen them up, given them the freedom to use their athleticism on the court and we have tried to do that and it doesn't mean it's going to work in the NCAA Tournament but they are playing well.
Q. UCLA has only won two games in the NCAA Tournament since 2008. How important is it for you and UCLA to get established with a few wins in the tournament?
COACH ALFORD: We're laying a foundation, I think that's what year one is about and I love what we're trying to do from style of play to how we like to play offensively and defensively and the up tempo. I think this is an exciting team to watch, they're unselfish, they work hard, they share the ball. They're so far ahead of where we projected because you look at their numbers and it's just a fun and exciting team to coach.
It's important. You're not at UCLA if it's not important to advance in the NCAA Tournament. So with that said, these guys have done some really good things this year and we are playing well so hopefully we know we're playing a very good Tulsa team and an outstanding coached team so it's not going to be easy.
Each round, each game it doesn't get any easier so we've got to be playing really good basketball and tomorrow night for us to advance we're going to have to play really good basketball.
Q. Steve, a lot has been made in Tulsa of the game 20 years ago. Do you feel like your team's got Tulsa has their full attention this year?
COACH ALFORD: Well, yeah, I would think. None of these guys obviously majority of the team wasn't even around so I would think. We have respected everybody and teams that you don't all of the sudden have a respect for, you know, I think that's that's one of the worst things you can do as a player. We spend an awful lot of time communicating to our players on a daily basis, it's the next opponent. Whether we're in league play and I think that's why this team has been consistent. They've stayed away from losing streaks and now you get in the NCAA Tournament. I don't think it's ever about when teams get upset it's about looking past somebody it's just hard. The parity today versus 20 years ago is not even the same. I played in the mid to late 80s and the parity now on the men's side is so much greater than it was in the late 80s when I played. You better be ready because if you're not ready you're going to be out of this tournament pretty quickly.
Our guys have tremendous respect for Tulsa and the tape that they have been able to watch they understand how good of a team we're playing. At the Division I level if you win your league and your league tournament and you win 11 games in a row you get respected pretty quickly at this level.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Alford in San Diego
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