Steve Alford (USA Today)

UCLA Head Coach Steve Alford Previews Wooden Legacy Tournament

Nov. 23 -- UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford spoke to the media ahead of this week's Wooden Legacy Tournament, commenting on the health status of true freshman center Ike Anigbogu, the pace of play and more...

On the availability of true freshman Ike Anigbogu:

"We've got to wait and see how things go the next two of three days, so he's at least questionable. His status has been upgraded to where I think doctors are pleased with everything so we'll start getting him back into things and see, by the time we get to Thursday, what it looks like. Whether we get him for a little bit on Thursday or not at all, moving forward we've just got to see how things look. He's at least going to be questionable for the tournament."

On what Anigbogu would add to the roster:

"He adds a lot. One, he's a rim protector. He was a double-double in Australia, so he's somebody who can rebound the ball and can score in the post. He's athletic, blocks shots and is a big, physical presence at 6-9 and 255, it just gives you more depth up front because we've been thin up front. If and when we get him back, that helps with our depth."

On the condition of Alex Olesinski:

"He's probably doubtful. I haven't heard anything upgraded with him. All I've heard is from Ike's standpoint. Alex is still doubtful."

On leading the nation in scoring through four games:

"Four games in, there is a lot more analysis and statistics being done earlier in bits and pieces, so we've always taken a lot of pride and you try to hard to guard. You try to be hard to score against. Our possessions are way up and that favors us because I do think we have a lot of guys on our team that can shoot and score the basketball. We know how to handle it; we know how to pass it. Right now the ball is moving and people are moving, so the offense is looking good. It hasn't been an offense that has been stagnant. It's been moving and the hardest offense to guard is one that moves and right now we've had that. People have pressed us and have thrown multiple zones at us in four games and they've manned us, so we've seen a variety of styles defensively and yet, for the most part, we've been really consistent. And we've seen our team defense continue to evolve and continue to get better. The numbers might not say it because we're playing at a high rate of speed. We're probably top 10 in the country in possessions per game, so those numbers are always going to be elevated some. It's about how we're getting scored on and we're seeing through film when we bring that back to the guys they do a great job of trying to correct that. It's not just them doing it offensively; we're seeing a lot of growth on the other end as well."

On defending the 3-point shot:

"Two fold, a lot of it has been drive and kick issues where it's on the ball or gap help we're doing. Some of it has been on second shots because we've been a little vulnerable there. We've given up some second shots and they always end up being lay ups, fouls or kick-out threes. And then the third component is that we've been a part of four games where we've had a widespread of points and so now what you get when you're up 20, 30 points, the opposing teams are just shooting threes to try to get back. Some of it has been that as well."

On the upcoming matchup against unbeaten Portland:

"They've played three games and haven't been beaten, and our bracket has three teams in there with Nebraska, Dayton and Portland -- all three teams that are doing well. All three teams are playing well. Any time we got to a tournament, it's about trying to win your bracket. We're not even discussing Sunday with our guys -- we've got a four-team bracket here and it's our job to try to do everything we can to win that bracket to set up what Sunday could potentially look like. They've got a lot of experience. Terry (Porter) and I go way back from when he played and I played, so I'm excited for him to be in the coaching profession. He's obviously gotten his career off to a good start winning the first three games.

"They dribble-drive the basketball very well. You're going to see a lot of pick-and-roll sets and constantly trying to go downhill with ball-screen action. And then they split, at least in what we've seen on film, from man-to-man and 2-3 zone. They're an offensive team and they do like to play with pace. They've got very good guards and all-conference first-team selection. Any time you've got good guards, you can control a lot of things. They've got a stretch four that is the second leading scorer and second leading rebounder, so they present us with some issues early in the season as we're trying to find ourselves."

On handling games on back-to-back nights:

"The travel is better. Last year we were in Maui, then New York City and then we had to go to Spokane, so we had a lot of travel. The year before, it was even worse. I think we were in the Bahamas and Chicago. We've done a lot of traveling and this year it sets up better for us. The tournament is in Anaheim, so we'll be the last team to arrive and we'll get a practice in our own building, sleep in our own beds and we'll bus down after practice (Wednesday). From a travel standpoint, it benefits us. Now it's about taking advantage of that and being in a local tournament that's got Coach Wooden's name on it. That always means a great deal to us, so we want to play well and perform well and obviously put expectations on us to win this thing."

On the possibility of playing New Mexico in the tournament:

"It wouldn't be special for me. It's awkward. Those are never fun, like playing Long Beach State the other night because Coach Munson is a dear friend. I never like those games because those are always teams you're rooting for. Same with Coach (Craig) Neal at New Mexico. I watch all of those games as a fan. Once you're a Lobo, that's a part of you and that was six years of my life and it's a university that did and still means a great deal to me. I root for them constantly to do well. I follow all the sports, to be honest with you, at New Mexico. I know a lot of those coaches so I always want them to do well. If you get paired up and have to play, that's an uncomfortable feeling obviously because you're working somewhere else."

On the brand of basketball UCLA is playing:

"They've been fun from Day 1 of the summer and even back in the spring seeing the veterans take on the challenge of last year and dive into their individual development before the freshmen even got here. Then the freshmen arrived and that added some enthusiasm to it. Then we went on the foreign trip. Going to Australia, getting those practices in July and August, we saw the enthusiasm. We saw how they competed like crazy against each other, so they've just been a fun group of guys. Adversity hasn't hit and that sometimes can help build things or it can rip things apart. There's going to be adversity hit at some point. We've had a little bit of it with injuries and the guys have dealt with that extremely well. The years of perfect record and those types of things are long gone, so we know it's about being strong enough and having that foundation. Adversity might not be about a loss -- it's like trailing at the half like we were against CSUN in a game we weren't expecting to be down at halftime. How do we handle that? How do we handle a close game? Where does the ball go? Who takes the shot? How do we get the stop? These are all things that this team hasn't endured yet that we will endure. I'm anxious to see how we respond to it because we've got a great group of guys that really care. They spend time in the film room. We had three of them in again today. They do a really good job of coming in and working on their games whether it be mentally or physically, and that makes it fun as a coach. And then you see their skill set and that's fun. They're a fun team to watch, but I hope people realize it's more than the dunks and the threes. I hope they see the way they go about it and playing the game the right way. That's what makes it a lot of fun for a coach.

"We're coming off our toughest year and we had the No. 3 recruiting class in 2016 and we hadn't played a game yet when the 2017 class was pretty much done. It was No. 1, I think now it's ranked No. 2 so we're going to have back-to-back top five classes and all of this is coming off the heels of a losing season. That speaks volumes to the style the players see and they want to be a part of that. There's a new practice facility we're getting ready to move into, so there's a lot of momentum that's very, very positive and we're just trying to continue that movement and keep that needle moving forward."

On late-night games in Wooden Legacy Tournament:

"A little longer day in the hotel, but at least it's over the holidays and there is a lot of basketball and football on TV that as the guys rest, they're getting to see the sports they want to see. It does give us a little bit of time to prep. We're going to be fully prepared for the game against Portland on Thursday night, but it at least gives us close to 24 hours to get ready for that next opponent, whether it be Nebraska or Dayton. A lot of these tournaments you could play at 8 and then turn around and play at 2 or 3 o'clock the next day. So we've just got to hope to win that game and get in that 9 p.m. slot. That would be the most advantageous for us. ... We'll stay down there. All eight teams stay in the same place. On Saturday, the off day, we could possibly have a practice."

On having the tournament at two different venues:

"It's different. Last time I was in this it was not. It will be interesting to see how that all works. At least there is a day that breaks it up so that the championship rounds are on Sunday when the facilities switch."

On sharing the basketball:

"That's something we continue to harp on this team. We want to put opponents in a situation where they are trying to take different things away. If you want to take Bryce and Isaac away, then the drive games of 'Zo and Aaron come into play and also the post play. Right now we're getting one-on-one in the post and our posts are proving how good they are. We want that diverse way of playing to whatever we see you taking away, you're giving something up. And we feel whatever you're giving up is just as potent as what you're taking away. They key is, do we have the right spacing and the right people moving? Right now our guys are sharing it at an unbelievable level and that's what we've got to continue to do. We can't get in a rut where we're taking bad shots. We don't need to be a team that takes bad shots. I don't mind playing at this pace. Some people would say we quick shoot. I don't even mind quick shooting with this team because of its talent as long as they are high percentage shots. If we get high-percentage shots two seconds into the shot clock, that's fine with me as long as they are high percentage. I have enough trust in this team that we are going to make a high percentage of them. It's the contested tough shots that we don't need to be doing. That's going to hurt not just our offense, but it's going to hurt our defense and I think the breakdowns we've had defensively in our first four games have had to do with our breakdowns offensively. That's just learning to play at this pace. When we've gone through stretches of turning the ball over at a high level, that's led to a lot of easy stuff at the other end. It puts a lot of pressure on your defense."

On the team's camaraderie:

"I give a lot of credit to the Australia trip because we got to spend 10 to 14 days there and they got to know one another. We got 10 practices -- you don't usually get that in the summer and there was bonding. We've got some California kids and they've grown up playing each other and that has helped the transition. And then some roles have changed and it's been about guys accepting those roles like Bryce being off the ball more. Different guys are coming in with different roles this year and we're playing at a high level."

On the four-guard lineup:

"Nobody is really playing off the ball. When T.J. is in there with those four guards, we're playing whoever gets it goes, and so we elevate how fast we play. It's really about how we can make those decisions at that rate of speed but also defend at that rate of speed. It's not even about who is on the ball, I just want that thing moving. Lonzo is a big part of that thing moving and it becomes contagious with everybody else."

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