MEMPHIS, Tenn. - One day prior to facing Florida in a South Regional semifinal matchup, the UCLA men's basketball team addressed the media at FedExForum after going through an afternoon shootaround.
Head coach Steve Alford, along with sophomore guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, addressed the media in a press conference setting on Wednesday afternoon. Coach Alford has guided UCLA to a 28-8 record in his first season as the Bruins' head coach (23rd season as a collegiate head coach). Adams (17.4 ppg) and Anderson (14.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg) enter Thursday's game as UCLA's top two leading scorers.
UCLA arrived in Memphis on Tuesday evening, two days after having defeated Stephen F. Austin, 77-60, in a third-round game of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday in San Diego.
No. 4-seed UCLA (28-8) will face No. 1-seed Florida (34-2) on Thursday at 6:45 p.m. (PT) at FedExForum in a regional semifinal contest. UCLA's game on Thursday will be nationally televised on CBS. The winner of Thursday's game will face either No. 10-seed Stanford or No. 11-seed Dayton in the regional final on Saturday (game time TBD) at FedExForum.
SOUTH REGION – PRESS CONFERENCE
FedExForum – Memphis, Tenn.
March 26, 2014
UCLA head coach Steve Alford
Q: Steve, wondering about that Final Four where both Indiana and Providence were there. Do you recall any chance encounters at all with Billy [Donovan]? I know you didn't get a chance to play each other. In general, do you have memories of watching Billy play basketball either on TV or in person?
Coach Alford: “Yes, we were obviously the same era as players. I obviously remember him. We didn't play against each other at all as players at the collegiate level or beyond, so didn't get a chance to do any of that and really haven't met up as coaches either.
“So, he's had obviously a terrific career at Florida. I've had different stops along the way. But just a fierce competitor. Very skilled, talented guard, high basketball IQ as a player, and kind of emulates that now as a coach. His teams always play hard. They're extremely well coached, disciplined. But they have a lot of fun playing the game. That's kind of what he emulated. I think, as a player, somebody that just got the most out of his ability and played hard and played well, and his teams do the same thing. Our paths really haven't crossed that way. Just got a lot of respect for him, obviously.”
Q: Coach, how much has Kyle Anderson's versatility, his ability to play point guard during some stretches at 6-foot-9 impacted the success of your team offensively this season?
Coach Alford: “I don't know of anything that's been bigger for us. From day one back in April when we were hired and had to re recruit the six guys that we had on scholarship. That's the first thing we told Kyle. We said, ‘We know that you want to be a point guard. You're going to be our point guard, and we're going to right away present a lot of problems for people that are trying to match up to a 6'9" point guard.’ He’s not just a 6'9" point guard, a wingspan of 7'3". We're talking about a long, very, very long, big point guard.
“He does so many things for us. He's our leading rebounder. He's got the most assists on the team. He's shooting the ball very well. I think the thing that probably gets undermined and not enough attention is the way he shoots the basketball. He's shooting 50 percent at three. He did a little bit this summer changing. He had a little pause button in his jump shot. When you're trying to unwind a 7'3" wingspan, sometimes you've got to pause, and he's gotten rid of that where there's only one motion.
“I think that's created even more of a problem for how to guard him. Now he can shoot it from the three point line. He's always been a terrific driver and finisher. He sees over traps so well. He passes out of tough situations at the last minute. And then I think what's happened, as a long answer to your question, really what's meant the most to this team is that it's become contagious. His ability to pass the ball has become contagious.
“We're basically playing an eight man rotation, and six of the eight guys have a positive assist to turnover ratio. We've had one of the best assist turnover ratios all season long in the country. It started with Kyle, but it just kind of went through our team. And we've been a very good passing team. If we're going to have a chance with the challenge that's ahead of us tomorrow night, we're going to have to continue the ability to move the basketball well.”
Q: Coach, you and Billy Donovan have some things in common. One of them obviously is to have your sons on the team. Can you just talk about what that's like to have both your sons with you through a ride like this.
Coach Alford: “Yeah, it's just one of those special blessings that happens in the time of your career. I was a coach's kid. So growing up in New Castle [Indiana], I played for my dad, and my brother played for my dad. I've had coaches that have been coach's kids on my staff, Coach [Craig] Neal at New Mexico and now Coach [Ed] Schilling here at UCLA were coaches' kids as well. So I've had a lot of help down the line preparing for this. I think that's a unique situation.
“And I always think about the kid because that's the way I was first. I was a coach's kid first before being on the other side of it. To be a coach's kid is one thing. I was a coach's kid at New Castle High School. They're coach's kids at UCLA. It's a little bit different, and they just handled it unbelievable. You have fun with it. I think the bottom line, that's kind of been the message to my whole team, have fun with it. I want my own kids to do that as well.
“So Kory has been great for Bryce getting him adjusted to what college basketball and college life is all about because I think Bryce is much more mature beyond just being a freshman. He's played that way all year, and his brother's had a lot to do with it. But I think Billy will tell you what's a lot of fun is you go to work early and you prep and you watch tape and you plan practices, and you're doing all this leading up to 2:00, 3:00 of when your practice time is. It's a lot of fun doing that knowing that there's a piece of your family that gets to enjoy that as well. I think those are the blessings of being in a father son, coach player relationship that makes it that much more enjoyable.”
Q: Steve, it's been six years, I think, since the Pac 10/Pac 12 has had three Sweet 16 teams. Are you surprised it's taken that long? And what are your observations about the league after going through it the first year?
Coach Alford: “It's hard because I've only been a part of the Pac 12 for one year, but I will say it's a league that's really trending up. I think that trend probably started last year. We're only about two or three years removed from being a league that I think our league champion didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. I think, if I'm not mistaken, Washington was a league champion, and they didn't even get an invite, so that tells you what our league's gone from.
“I've been at New Mexico the past six years, and if you look at the Mountain West record against the Pac 12, there were a lot of Mountain West teams wanting to play the Pac 12, and I think that trend is reversing. I think you see the Pac 12 this year. We were the third ranked league in the country pretty much consistently throughout the year. Then as you mentioned, now you've got three teams that advanced. You've still got California in the NIT that's still playing. It's been a league where you put six in the NCAA Tournament and two more in the NIT tournament, I think it's a league that's trending up.
“Going through it for my first time, it was a very difficult league. I think the true test of your league, how difficult are your home games? Everybody knows road games are hard, but if your home games are hard too, you know you've got a pretty good league. I think, if you look across our season, home games for all of us were pretty difficult.”
Q: First of all, are you, are you tired of hearing yet about UCLA's history with Florida? Second part of the question, how do you prepare to attack such a stellar defense?
Coach Alford: “Well, we know we've got a lot of challenges with Florida, so everybody might as well throw in the history too. I don't know if the history's going to play much into the game, but it's just one more challenge that we try to get over. We've enjoyed the process, and that's really what we've tried to do here in year one, and we tried to lay a foundation. It is UCLA. It is a campus that is full of history and tradition of excellence. It's one of the reasons why we are excited about being there. As a coaching staff and the players that come to UCLA, that's our motto throughout, champions made here.
“And it is, regardless of what sport, men or women's, you look at it, UCLA, there's just champions everywhere. So we're a part of that. We're a part of that history. And you either embrace it and use it as a blessing, or it can become a burden. We tried from day one to make sure that it's a blessing for us, that I get a chance to walk by the Coach Wooden statue every day. I get a chance to coach in Pauley [Pavilion] 23 years after being in this business. I got a chance to play for my dad. I got a chance to play for Coach [Bob] Knight, and now to be coaching in an arena that Coach [John] Wooden made famous, you really pinch yourself. So we're trying to just enjoy that process and do everything we can to represent what has already been laid before us and do that the best we possibly can.”
Q: [No microphone]
Coach Alford: “Yeah, and a lot's been made out of Florida's defense, and a lot's been made of our offense. I think there will be a lot more than just their defense and our offense. I think our defense is probably better than advertised, and I know Florida's offense is probably better than advertised. So I think you've got two really good teams. You've got a Florida team that obviously has proved it over time. This is a group of seniors that they've been right there. They've had incredible success for three years, and now here they've got this incredible win streak.
“You go through a conference like the SEC and never lose, never lose in the tournament, this is a very, very good basketball team that we're playing. An extremely well coached team. So we know the challenges. We're playing our best basketball, and I think that's what makes for a great matchup. But you play Florida, you're going to have to score. If the game's in the 50s, that's probably not favoring UCLA. We need the thing to be a little bit more up tempo than that.”
Q: Coach, Mark Harlan took over as athletic director over at University of South Florida. You know Mark pretty well. Your assessment of that. And he's going through a tough time, what happened with [Steve] Masiello and the situation there. Could you speak about Mark and his character and all that?
Coach Alford: “I was under Mark for about a year. Both Mark and Dan Guerrero were responsible for the hiring of me, at least in the process of interviewing and those type of things. Mark is just like Dan as far as incredible character, great integrity. I worked with him for a year, and he was phenomenal. We hated to see him leave, but we also know that that's a tremendous opportunity for him and his family. He's got a wonderful family. We've made so many changes in such a short time in trying to implement the culture that we want, and Mark has done everything possible to help us in all those things. And that's a tough situation.
“You're glad that you got Mark in charge because I think that's what you want when you've got administrators that, when tough times do come, can you handle those tough times. When you're at UCLA, you go through some things on a daily basis sometimes, and Mark's always handled it very professionally and with the utmost integrity and character in mind. I know he's going to do a terrific job in South Florida.”
Q: Obviously you played at a tradition rich program. You coach at a tradition rich program. Any added respect for Billy because he's built a program?
Coach Alford: “Oh, without question. To be somewhere 18 years and put your culture in right from the beginning and a university that, you're right, had not had nearly the success in the past before Billy, and to put the stamp on it and to have one of the premier programs, college basketball programs in the country. To do it as consistently as Billy has done it, he and his staff have done a terrific job. I have the utmost respect for him, always have, both as a player. Most of his coaching career has been at Florida. He found his niche early at Florida. He found an institution that supported him and provided the things that he needed to be successful. Then he put his stamp on it in just about every way, shape, or form. It's been fun to see because he's one of the good guys in the business, and I've always wished him the best. I'll always do that except at 8:45 tomorrow.”
Q: Coach, I read where you're playing zone in about 37 percent of your possessions. A little bit more to your liking, or how would you say the zone has been effective for you guys this season?
Coach Alford: “Well, it's 37 percent more of liking of my college coach. With us, I think we have to do what's best, but Coach Knight would be the first to tell you, regardless of your defense, just be good at it. We've been pretty good at it. We've done a nice job.
“Because you've got length, when you start a 6'9" point guard and your other guards are 6'5" and you've got two 6'10" forwards, you've got a lot of length. We're able and pretty athletic. When we come with Zach and Bryce off the bench, these are two kids that are pretty athletic, Tony Parker in the middle. So we were able to change up some things, and it's been successful for us. We were able to extend it a little bit. But really at the half court to mix in a little bit of our zone and a little bit of the man, it just seems to have worked for us. Our guys are interested in it. Our guys work hard in it. So, obviously, going game to game, we're never for sure exactly what percentage it's going to be. We kind of fill that out and make the adjustments as we go, but that zone's been helpful for us this year.”
Q: Coach, Archie Miller said that this time of year with the duration of the timeouts, that he didn't think depth was as big a factor. Do you concur with that?
Coach Alford: “Yeah, not just with depth, but finding out things to say in the huddle. I think today was our 103rd or 104th practice on the year. I've been doing this 23 years. Because the schedule was moved up, we started two weeks early. So the season's gotten even longer, which I wasn't in favor of. I like that October 15th date much better. But that said, it gets longer that way. So these guys understand that you're not going to change who you are when you get to mid March. So the timeouts, I sit there, and I've actually looked at them, and we try to joke around with them to maybe cut some into that time because they are long timeouts. But I would agree that you get this time of year, if you're healthy, depending, again, of how you play, if you're a pressing team for 40 minutes, I think depth still comes into play where you've got to go into your bench. But we pretty much settled into an eight man rotation, and I would assume that's going to be our rotation again unless we get into serious foul trouble.”
Q: Steve, you played at a place that had a lot of expectations and you’re coaching at a similar spot now. When you look back, do you think Coach Knight had any more or less expectations that you or any coach today has from a fan base?
Coach Alford: Oh, no, I just know in my four years at Indiana, the goal was the same every year. We only won one in my four years. We won it as a senior. Our goal at Indiana under Coach Knight every year was to win a National Championship. Now, you obviously are trying to win Big Ten Championships and you try, if you're in exempt tournaments, try to be the best basketball team that you can be. But even going beyond winning the National Championship, Coach Knight's approach was always get better. Every day get better. Get a little bit better so you're one team in November, you're another team in December. You just keep getting better as a basketball team.
“I've tried to do that same philosophy and have teams that have done it and have teams that have obviously struggled with it. But that's what I appreciate about this team. We're a much better team here in March than what we were in November and December, and that's a great credit to the players. They've worked extremely hard. Some of these guys, I'm their third college coach. That's not easy. They've just responded to the coaching change extremely well. They've done everything we've asked them to do, and now we're one of 15 other teams still playing. But when you're at UCLA, that expectation is high, and regardless of whether it's your first year, your 10th year, whatever it is, you start each season trying to win a National Championship.”
Q: Kyle, I know you were recruited pretty heavily by Florida and Billy Donovan visited you a few times. How close was it? How hard of a decision was it to pick UCLA over Florida? And what about the Florida program maybe intrigued you at that time?
Kyle Anderson: “Well, it was a very close decision. I wouldn't have had a problem with going to both schools. I just happened to like UCLA more. I think the player development that I saw when being recruited by Coach Donovan, I think that played a big role in how much I liked Florida at the time. But I decided to come to UCLA, and I was happy with my decision.”
Q: Kyle, Scottie Wilbekin is going to be giving 16 inches to you more or less. From what you've seen on film and in games, what challenge is he going to present to you defensively even though he's spotting you a few inches?
Kyle Anderson: “He's a very good on the ball defender, as I've been watching on film and watching him all year. He's the SEC player of the year. He's a senior. He's been here before. Yeah, like I said, he's a very quick on ball defender. It's going to be a good matchup since he's lower to the ground more than me, has great leverage on me. But I've just got to go out there and play my game.”
Q: Just both of you, just discuss kind of the physical nature of Florida, how important rebounding is going to be in this game.
Kyle Anderson: “Well, it's going to be huge. Watching them, they get a lot of points on second chance opportunities. They have big, physical guys, senior oriented, and we've just got to match their intensity. It's going to be tough to match their physicality, but we've got to match that and get to the glass and limit them to one shot.”
Jordan Adams: “You know, they play in the SEC conference. It's a very physical conference. They've been battling. They played teams like Tennessee with two big guys down there, Jarnell Stokes and Maymon. So they battle big teams. They're a physical team.”
Q: This idea of you guys being an offensive team, scoring lots of points, Florida with the defense, at what point does the offense assert itself over the defense and get that edge? What does it take?
Kyle Anderson: “Well, almost never. You know, defense is the key to winning. We don't want to get into a matchup where it's our good offense versus their very good defense. We want to present ourselves on the defensive end as well, and that's what's going to win this game, which team is better on defensively. They've proven to be the best defensive team in the country all year. We've just got to match our defense as best as we can and make it a defensive game.”
Q: Kyle, your coach talked a lot about your passing ability being contagious. How did you hone that over time? Would you describe yourself basically as an unselfish player, or how would you view your passing and your joy of getting assists?
Kyle Anderson: “I wouldn't say it's more joy of getting assists. It's more of just making my teammates better and putting them in great opportunities to score. I think my teammates do a very good job of running the floor and cutting hard. I try to reward them as much as I can with being unselfish. I think that makes them look good, and it also makes myself look like a good player. So I just try to get my teammates involved. If it comes down to it, I'll try to score a little bit. But it's more important to get my teammates going.”
Q: Kyle, can you talk to me a little bit about Bob Hurley and the development of the guards that have come through his program. Why are there so many good guards coming out of St. Anthony's?Kyle Anderson: “Well, I would say just another program where player development is huge. It's Coach Donovan had Mike Rosario from St. Anthony's, who's been through Coach Hurley's program. We can go on and on with the list of guards that Coach Hurley has put out.
“I would say it's great player development and guys who really buy into what Coach Hurley, who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, they really buy into what he's teaching. Everybody that plays for him really wants to listen to him and take what he says into consideration. So, I think he's just able to produce very good guards.”
Q: Kyle, you present matchup problems with your size and versatility. What do you see from Dorian Finney Smith on that front?
Kyle Anderson: “He's a very good player coming off their bench. He could easily start at many other schools. He's able to step out and shoot the three. He has a good pump fake and drive to the basket. He's a very good player. He's sixth man in the conference, Sixth Man of the Year. So he's going to be tough coming off the bench. We've watched a lot of film on him. We've just got to take care of him. Our guys coming off the bench have an eye on him. He can knock down threes. He can do a lot. So we've just got to prepare for him as well. He's the second leading rebounder on the team coming off the bench. That's tough to do. He's a great rebounder. We want to keep them off the offensive glass as much as we can. So it's going to take a five guy effort to get to the glass and just do a very good job is what we need to do on the rebounding end.”
Q: Jordan, before you picked UCLA, University of Memphis was very serious about you. You were considering them. What do you remember about Memphis from that process?
Jordan Adams: “They were recruiting me hard, Coach [Josh] Pastner. We created a good relationship. Like Kyle, two decisions were between Florida and UCLA. Mine were between Memphis and UCLA. I saw myself more at UCLA just more than I saw myself at Memphis.”
Q: Jordan, when you looked at Memphis versus UCLA, obviously, there are a lot of pro teams in the Los Angeles area. Did you consider Memphis as a place where it would be kind of more of a bigger stage in some ways even though it's a smaller place?
Jordan Adams: “Not really. I think UCLA is one of the biggest stages. So to play for UCLA in this tradition, that's what really set the tone and really made my decision.”