UCLA’s Steve Alford set to face longtime friend in Round of 64

UCLA’s upset win over No. 4 Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Tournament earned them the No. 4 seed in the South Region in this year’s NCAA Tournament as well as a favorable location for their first game in the round of 64.

The Bruins will face Tulsa, the winners of Conference USA, Friday at Viejas Arena in San Diego. 

But it’s the coaching matchup between the Golden Hurricane and the Bruins that is the most intriguing storyline of the second-round matchup. Danny Manning, who led the 1986 Kansas Jayhawks to the Final Four and the 1988 team to the NCAA Championship, will go up against a coach of similar background and stature in Steve Alford.

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Not only that, he’ll go up against a longtime friend in Alford as well.

"We go way back to the Olympic Trials in 1984," Alford said. "We got along because we were players from the same area in the same era. He was a tremendous player in his NBA career. He got into coaching and was on the bench at Kansas for years and everybody knows about the tradition at Kansas, so he’s been around winning as a player and as a coach his entire life."

In only his second season as a head coach, Manning took the Golden Hurricane from a 17-16 team to a 21-12 championship team. The former Clipper was long touted as one of the top assistants in the country under Kansas head coach Bill Self, going back to his alma mater after retiring from the NBA in 2003.

The team he led to the Championship was famously known as "Danny and the Miracles" and the 1988 Jayhawks won only a year after Alford had led the Hoosiers to victory in the Big Dance. 

A quiet but intensely passionate and exceptional basketball mind, Manning has built his program with the same attitude he learned at Kansas with a refusal to back down to any team. The 13th-seeded Hurricane comes into the Tournament having won 11 in a row. 

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"The Tulsa program has done a tremendous job. Other than Stephen F. Austin and Wichita (State), they’re probably the hottest team in the country," Alford said. 

The last time UCLA played a postseason game in San Diego they did so with ease, playing the two opening rounds of the 2006 NCAA Tournament and eventually making the title game. It’s also Norman Powell’s hometown and gives the Bruins a sort of hometown advantage.

Cal Poly, the historic winners of the Big West Championship Tournament Saturday night in Anaheim, got exactly the draw it wanted in its first-ever Division I NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs (13-19) will be a No. 16 seed – head coach Joe Callero’s lucky number as he is one of 16 children in his family – and will play another No. 16 seed in Texas Southern in the First Four play-in round.

Should the Mustangs continue to extend their torrid run and reach the Sweet 16, they would end up right back where they began at the Honda Center in Anaheim.