No. 2 UCLA looks to stay undefeated vs. Michigan
LOS ANGELES — Final exams and preparing for a foe that prefers a slower pace hasn't left UCLA much time to celebrate the victory that vaulted the Bruins into the discussion of potential Final Four teams.
Bruins coach Steve Alford said the coaches and players basked in the radiance of their 97-92 victory Dec. 3 at then-No. 1-ranked Kentucky for about 48 hours.
“I want them to enjoy it,” Alford said. “It's not just business, business, business. I want the guys enjoying winning and understanding what that feels like, so that when you get punched in the mouth you don't like that very much and you understand the two different tastes.”
That's about all the schedule would allow because, while the newly-minted second-ranked Bruins (9-0) haven't played a game since that win in Lexington, there were tests to prepare for and take in the classroom this week that Alford said aren't over for some until 24 hours before tip-off.
“Any time you can be ranked in the Top 10 and you're undefeated and you're getting close to the finals, that's exciting,” Alford said. “We're starting to get healthy, the guys are doing a lot of good things but it's nine games in. That's all it is.”
The 9-0 Bruins are now focused on ways to keep their high-octane offense moving in Saturday's 5 p.m. PST showdown at Pauley Pavilion against Michigan. UCLA is averaging 97 points while the 7-2 Wolverines are allowing opponents just 58.2 points per outing.
When asked at a Thursday press briefing how Alford plans to keep the Bruins from getting wrapped up in the hype of such a big win, he had a three-word response.
“We schedule Michigan,” Alford said. “We know that if we believe all that stuff and we don't improve this week we will get beat. We've got a 7-2 Michigan team coming in here and they're an upper-echelon team in the Big Ten and we've got Ohio State in another week.”
There's one element of this Bruin team that Alford believes is the biggest for the success they've enjoyed so far.
“They move the ball,” Alford said. “Of all the teams I've had in 26 years, this is probably the team that understands moving the ball at the rate that they move it. It's a selfless group.”
“They really don't care if they get the hockey assist, the basketball assist or the basket, the ball just moves.”
Proof that the Bruins are getting those secondary and primary assists are assist numbers UCLA teams haven't posted in nearly a decade. Three times this season — against Pacific, Portland and UC Riverside — the Bruins recorded a season-high 29 assists.
Not since Dec. 31, 2006 did UCLA post as many as 29 assists in a single game. Not since 1995 have the Bruins cracked the 30-assist barrier in a 104-88 win at California.
When they ball isn't moving are the times Alford said the Bruins have run into trouble.
“When we've struggled — a little bit against Nebraska, a little bit against (Texas) A&M, when we saw a big 2-3 zone thrown at us, the ball has stopped,” Alford said. “The guys are seeing that. Now we're getting ready to play a very, very good defensive team that plays a little bit different tempo than what we want to play.”
“That's what's going to be intriguing about the upcoming game of what tempo can be played. Regardless whether it's a slower tempo or a quick tempo, we want the ball moving.”
When that's working optimally, as it was against Kentucky, is when UCLA is at its best.
“That was what was very impressive playing a team like Kentucky on their home floor,” Alford said. “For 40 minutes that ball moved. When we're doing that, we do have a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket.”