LOS ANGELES — In his first season in Westwood, UCLA head coach Steve Alford managed to change the culture of the program and returned it to the top tier of college basketball.
Defeating No. 1 seed Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament was not only a huge step in the building process of the program, but it was also one of the most entertaining games of the season. Both times the two teams met they played memorable contests that came down to the final seconds, fully restoring the old rivalry between the Pac-12’s best.
Although they weren’t able to topple another 1 seed in Final Four-bound Florida, it was still the deepest run the Bruins had made in the NCAA tournament since their last Final Four year in 2008, and Alford silenced many who doubted his ability to coach in the postseason.
"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," Alford said earlier this week in Memphis. "But when you’re at UCLA, that expectation is high, and regardless of whether it’s your first year, your tenth year, whatever it is, you start each season trying to win a National Championship."
After a full season under Alford, here’s what we learned about the Bruins.
They can fly
The Bruins’ second-round game against Tulsa showcased an insane pace between both teams. UCLA could not only run and run well, they could keep up with another up-tempo team.
Alford’s motion offense featured an open, free system allowing players to deviate from the previously strict, fundamental-heavy system of Ben Howland. Kyle Anderson, a finalist for the Lute Olson award, posed a matchup problem as a 6-foot-9 point guard and the Wear twins, Travis and David, proved versatile. Norman Powell and Jordan Adams were key in the transition game, the aspect of the offense where UCLA had the most success.
The Bruins finished the season ranked 14th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense rantings and could shoot the lights out, finishing 11th in the Division I in scoring offense and 10th in field goal percentage.
The Bruins have safely landed at LAX. We are grateful for the support from our fans all season & through #MarchMadness. #GoBruins
Before the season, Alford said he was going to implement a zone and never backed down from that statement.
It was not an easy transition.
The first game of the season, Drexel made a late run and the Bruins needed to go back to their man-to-man defense in order to hold the Dragons off. But as Alford said, they ended the season a much better one than they started and relied heavily on a zone throughout the final months of the season.
I really appreciate what the players were able to do and accomplish this year.
-- Steve Alford
Alford liked to joke that his college coach Bob Knight wouldn’t be happy with how much zone he was implementing, but it was effective. Anderson’s length was an asset in a zone and the Wear twins learned quickly and anchored the defense.
"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," Alford said. We’ve been pretty good at it, we’ve done a nice job."
They can adapt
The zone is a perfect example of the adjustments the team was able to make. The Oregon game, when Anderson and Adams were both suspended, went into overtime because Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine pulled their team through.
This season they adapted to a new head coach, next they will need to adapt to a team that will look nearly new. Adams, Powell and Tony Parker are expected to stay, but LaVine and Anderson will move on to the NBA. The Bruins will get redshirt transfer Isaac Hamilton, a five-star recruit, and another five-star prospect in Kevon Looney.
"The foundation’s been laid," Alford said. "I really appreciate what the players were able to do and accomplish this year."