Alford and Players at NCAA Tournament

Mar. 19 -- Check out what UCLA had to say in advance of their opening round matchup against SMU...

Q. Since the brackets came out Sunday night, there's been so much scrutiny of this team's record. Is that something that you guys pay attention to, or do you maybe embrace it as a rallying point to show that you deserve to be in this tournament?
Norman Powell: Honestly, we're just happy and excited to be here. I'm not really worried about what's being said. Just looking to have an opportunity to play another game of basketball. I think this team is taking it as a little bit of fuel to their fire and more motivation to go out there and play.

Kevon Looney: I would agree with what he said. It's a lot of motivation. Everybody doesn't think we deserve to be here, and I think we're going to try to prove them wrong. I think we feel that we deserve to be here. I think we'll be ready for the game.

Q. For both players, will you find yourselves watching a lot of games? Do you really immerse yourself in this tournament when it comes every year?
NORMAN POWELL: Yeah, definitely. It's a great time of the year for college basketball. It's really exciting seeing anything happen in March. That's why it's called March Madness. You see a lot of teams get an upset, things like that. So there's a lot of great games that are going to be on. So definitely be tuned in and watching what goes on in this tournament.

KEVON LOONEY: Yeah, I love to watch basketball. Anytime basketball is on, I try to watch it. I caught some games last night. There were some good games. I watch every game I can. You get to learn from the games, and it motivates you to play the next day.

Q. Before you got the bracket and saw you were going to be playing SMU, how familiar were you maybe with them and the fact that Larry Brown at one point was a UCLA coach back in the day?
NORMAN POWELL: I'm very familiar. Talking to Tyus (Edney) and everything, Larry Brown has done for the game. We know that SMU is a really great, wellcoached team and they have great players there. It's going to be a hard fought match. I know that they were left out of the tournament last year, so they're going to have a chip on their shoulder about actually being selected and being able to play. So it's going to be a good game. We know that they have a great team.

KEVON LOONEY: I know a little bit about Larry Brown. SMU has a good program since he's been there. Got a well-coached team. Tough players on his team. I watched them a couple times when they played like UConn. So I've seen them play a little bit. Coach really showed us film on them. So I think we're going to be ready

Q. Just to follow up on that, Larry Brown's place in UCLA history, for both of you, we always ask this of players who play for the Yankees and any great teams. What does the whole UCLA heritage? What does that mean to you?
NORMAN POWELL: I mean, it means everything to me. I've been fortunate enough to play all four years at UCLA, grow and mature as a player and as a person outside of basketball. I credit all of that to UCLA, everything I've been through. It's a great tradition. I've always been proud of that, to be able to wear those four letters across my chest every game. It's a family atmosphere. It means everything. I'm proud to be a Bruin, and I'm a Bruin for life.

KEVON LOONEY: Yeah, UCLA history is a big part of the reason I came here. Being a freshman and seeing all the great players they produce and all the great people they have that came through UCLA. It's really made me want to come here. When I got here, I loved it. I got to meet like Bill Walton, he's a great guy. Everyone else here taught me a lot. I'm proud to wear UCLA across my chest.

Q. Norman, you said you grew up a lot or grew a lot off the court. Can you describe how and in what ways.
NORMAN POWELL: Just my maturity level. I'm really focusing on life after basketball. Graduating early, getting my degree after this quarter. So I have one final left on Thursday. After the game, I'm going to take that, and I'll be done with UCLA as a student. So just different things like that, being able to talk to different people, networking, setting up what I want to do. I want to be a sports commentator and broadcaster. Being able to talk to Bill Walton, Tracy Murray, Don MacLean, players like that who came to UCLA and are doing things outside of basketball really helped me further my career.

Q. You said you have a final this Thursday?
NORMAN POWELL: Yeah, this Thursday after the game.

Q. What is that in, and when can you study? Or are you going to study?
NORMAN POWELL: I've been studying for the weeks leading up to this, on the plane, things like that, rest time. I've been studying to make sure I know what I'm doing. I finished an essay on the plane. It's a tough week for getting your studies in. We're in finals week, but I managed to get it done.

Q. What is it in?
NORMAN POWELL: History. Art history, African art.

Q. What was the subject on the essay?
NORMAN POWELL: It was comparative analysis on freed women and freed men, roles in the economy in the slave times.

Q. Kevon, do you have any finals this week?
KEVON LOONEY: I finished on Monday, actually. So I'm on spring break right now.

COACH ALFORD: Excited to be here. The guys have worked awfully hard. It's good to see this young team get better throughout the season. So we're excited about it. Excited about the matchup. Have an awful lot of respect for Coach Brown and his program and his team and what Coach Brown has constantly meant to the game of basketball. Just looking forward to the matchup. We're pretty healthy. See what happens tomorrow.

Q. Coach, since the bracket came out Sunday night, there's been so much scrutiny of your team's record, whether or not you all deserve to be in here. Your thoughts on what your team's put together in season and your opportunity on Thursday.
COACH ALFORD: It's been kind of funny to us. It's UCLA. The history and tradition of UCLA in this tournament goes way, way back. But there's other teams. When you look at resumes and RPIs that were behind us, it's not like we were the last one in. We didn't get an 8 or 7 seed either. We got an 11 seed, but we weren't the last team in either. I think our guys have done enough. We were in a very good league. We finished fourth in that league. I think the problem is everybody saw us play Kentucky, and that was in December, where we scored 7 points in the half. We're a much better team now than we were in December. We're a very young team. I've told people. Not excuses, but that's why I'm so proud of this team and these young men. We were the only team in the country that lost four guys to the NBA and the other team in the country that lost three guys to hardship, and yet here we are in the NCAA Tournament, winners of 20 games, a top 25 schedule strength. We scheduled this way not knowing we were going to have three guys lost to hardship. It was almost an unfair schedule to a team as young as we are, and that's why I give this team a lot of credit. They've had to handle a lot of adversity early in the season. We lost our first two league games. Last 16 games, we're 115 throughout the league play, and then we went 11. So 126 the last 18. So these guys have improved and done a lot of good things. But I think everybody wants to sit on that first half of the Kentucky game. Kentucky's embarrassed a lot of teams this year. We just happened to be one of them.

Q. You mentioned the Kentucky game. Are you surprised that they're entering this tournament undefeated after that game that you guys played?
COACH ALFORD: No. I'm the wrong guy to ask. We scored 7 in a half. I'm surprised anybody got within 30 of them. No, they're extremely talented. They have guys that ended up coming back. You thought they were going to end up losing two or three of those guys, and they all came back. You've got a team that's extremely talented. Cal (John Calipari) does a tremendous job. Have an awful lot of respect for how he manages the talent, the pool of talent year in and year out. Incredible fan base. You've got a lot of things working favorably for you, and they've gotten on a roll. They've had a lot of close games. I think that's why they're the overwhelming favorite in this tournament. They've had their share of a lot of close games and close calls to where, on the road or even at home, I think with Ole Miss, where they've had to fight through some things and still find out a way to be able to come through. I think parity in college basketball today and the teams that you play, and Kentucky's schedule is up every year. They play a good schedule. They play a lot of games on neutral sites as well. So to come through that undefeated, that says something. I'm sure they're ready to go in this tournament. I know from experience I'd have them as the favorite to win it because I was very impressed with what they did to us.

Q. Steve, one more Kentucky question if you don't mind. At the time you played them, you said you thought, if they got to 150, 180 instead of the pressure getting to them, you thought it might rejuvenate them and make them take on even more. You think that could maybe be the case? What made you have that insight to think that at that time?
COACH ALFORD: I think there was so much attention put on early. I think the attention was even put on them when they took their summer trip. All the guys that were coming back to school and the incredible class they had coming in. Coach talks, Cal was talking about the platooning and all that. So there was a lot going on and a lot of attention to them. But I thought, if they could get by the nonconference season and get just midpoint of the conference season, then I think the pressure would turn a little bit. Yeah, there's still going to be the talk of it, but then after the players realize that, hey, we're 18, 20 games into this thing and we've played good competition and we're undefeated, take this thing one game at a time, keep getting better, and let's just see what happens. I think you see that in how they play. They're a very confident group. Obviously, you know how talented they are. To me, they're playing with a lot more confidence now than what they were in December. That's pretty scary if you ask me.

Q. Coach Brown has had one or two stops along the way. What are some of your early memories of seeing him in action?
COACH ALFORD: It does go way back. There's at least a connection. He was a Carolina guy. I was an Indiana guy. And you're talking about two of the more special programs over the last, if you look, 50, 60, 70 years. These are two programs that have, one, been very consistent, and there's a family. There's a Carolina family. There's an Indiana family. And there's a lot of loyalty within all that. So with that just being said, I have a lot of respect for him just because of the respect I have for the Carolina way. But on top of that, his longevity in college basketball and professional basketball of what he's meant to the game. He's a Hall of Famer. To still be doing this at this point in his life is amazing. And he's doing it at a high level. It doesn't matter what team he coaches, you know it's championship level play. And he's been very kind to me. I've been with him in a couple of clinics and private clinics that coaches have held, and when I've reached out to him, he's always been very nice to me and giving me information that could help me as I was a young coach. So it's an honor to, one, be competing against one of his teams, and we know we're going to have to play awfully well because the one thing we do know, SMU is very, very well coached.

Q. You've talked about Kentucky. You played them. You also played Arizona a couple times. Do you see them as the kind of team that could give Kentucky problems if they met up in the Final Four?
COACH ALFORD: Whether it's Kentucky or who it is, I think Wisconsin is in their bracket. I've known Bo a long time, and I think that's Bo's best team. So that potentially could be a great matchup. I do know, out of our league, there's no question Arizona was the best in our league this year. Very big, very physical, really guards you. They've got a very good point guard in McConnell, who runs the team, and they've got experience. A lot of those guys came back, and they've got a lot of experience on that team, and they got close last year. So I know they're going to be hungry as well. I have no idea about that matchup, but Arizona is definitely one of the better teams we've played this year.

Q. Coach, you spoke about families and the college basketball fraternity. You're maybe the first family, UCLA. What are the rewards, and what are the challenges of that for young players?
COACH ALFORD: At UCLA? Well, it's just a very special place. I've only been there two years, but, wow, what an incredible place. You look at history. The most national titles is UCLA. The most Pac12 conference titles, it's UCLA by twofold. You look at most NBA draft picks, it's UCLA. Most NBA first rounds, UCLA. Most NBA allstars, it's UCLA. It's just an incredible family of basketball tradition. But then you look at the campus, the academia, everything that is on that campus speak about excellence. The model around athletics at UCLA is Champions Made Here. That's what's cool about that place. Regardless of whether you're in men's athletics, women's athletics, Olympic sports, whatever it is, that campus is all about breeding champions. That's neat for me. For a guy that started playing the game and was all about individual workouts and working out on my own and getting in a gym in Indiana and just getting a ball in the basket and working on my skill, I see that every day on our campus in every sport, whether it's track and field, whether it's gymnastics, whether it's tennis, golf, whatever it may be. You see that on our campus every day. And then it's arguably one of the best schools in the world academically. So it's just a very, very special place. Then you mention the challenges. Well, the challenge is can you live up to that kind of standard? That's a very high standard that you've got to live up to, and it's a responsibility, not just on players, as well as the coaches to make sure you understand that. That's what I hope we're teaching our young men. Those four letters across their chest, there's a lot of history and tradition of excellence there. We need to fight and work to try to uphold all that.

Q. Along that line, Steve, what was your recollection of that tradition when Larry Brown was there? How do your players embrace that? How aware are they of Larry Brown's impact on the program coming into a game like this?
COACH ALFORD: Well, I'm more aware of it. I was in high school at the time, but when Coach Brown was at UCLA, our guys weren't born. That's the hard part. So you if ask them, they probably don't recall a lot of that. I think more than what coaches have been there, it's about the overall history and tradition that our guys know about UCLA, and we've made that promenade, the hallway leading from our locker room to Pauley Pavilion floor has 11 National Championship banners hanging. We're very proud of that. It's something we take very seriously addressing with our players. But as far as the previous coaches and things, probably not so much because the guys just aren't familiar with it. But at least I know, and our guys will know as we go into this game, that obviously Coach Brown was at UCLA and had a lot of success there in his few years there. But they know Coach Brown more, I think, from what he did professionally and what he's done even beyond the UCLA years.

Q. As a followup, this second half of the season, how have your guys bought in? What way have they really, really kind of bought in?
COACH ALFORD: I think they bought in from the beginning, and I think that's what's been very special about this group because they've had a lot of chances just to go south and go the other way, and they haven't done that. They stayed together. We had a very tough December. We had a very tough start to the conference season. So there was a couple times where they could have just kind of wrote this thing off. Young players sometimes will do that. They get frustrated. We're not seeing that. We didn't see that. We saw them getting tighter, closer together. It's a very young team. Norman, Bryce, and Tony are the only guys back that really played last year, and they're all new roles, much expanded roles. Norman was the third or fourth option in his three years previous. Now he's the goto guy. Tony, starting center. Bryce, starting point guard. These are all roles they haven't had to play before. And then the rest of the guys are freshmen and sophomores doing it for the first time. So we knew it was going to take some time, and I said it back in October to the media. There's going to be days where you go, wow, with this team. And it's a good wow. And then there's going to be times where you go, wow, like Kentucky. Like how did that happen? But that's youth. That's inexperience. Now we've got a team that, over the last five weeks, have really played good basketball. Our losses have been at Arizona in a very tough game. They pulled away in the last 50 seconds. At Arizona State by a basket. At Cal by a basket. And then in the conference tournament most recently, the very hard fought game against Arizona again where they pulled away in the last 30, 40 seconds. Even in our losses we've played very well. That's what I've liked about this team is they got over the hump, and now they see, you know, we're pretty good. We have a chance to be pretty good here. We've gotten together, and now we know our roles better, and we've got more experience, and we're playing better. I hope, as we get to season 4 here, and it's a national tournament, we can continue to play well because, to stay around this tournament, you've got to stay at your best.

Q. Coach, you referenced the Kentucky game way back when. That was such a memorable game in good and bad ways, I guess. How did you handle that? How did you want your guys to deal with that emotionally or any other way?
COACH ALFORD: We really wanted to take Christmas break. So we took Christmas break. After that, we got three days with our families, they got with their families, never watched any tape of that game. They came back from Christmas break, and the whole focus was on Alabama and getting ready for the next game and knowing that we had the conference season waiting on us right after the Alabama trip. So those were just tough trips. To go through flying to the Bahamas and playing the three teams there, come back home for about a tenday stretch, fly to Chicago, fly the guys home for Christmas break, bring them back, fly to Tuscaloosa, which is not an easy place to get to from Los Angeles, come right back, and then have to go to Colorado, Utah, it's a tough stretch. We didn't win games in that stretch, but I do think we came together as a team. We got better as a team, and that helped us moving forward. As coaches, we try to forget about it as quickly as possible. I'm sure there was some hangover with the Kentucky game with the players. It has to. I remember being a competitor. When you get hit in the face, that hangs with you a little bit. So we had some residue from that for a little bit, but a credit to the players. They figured it out as the weeks went by.

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