UCLA Coach Steve Alford and his players spoke to reporters after Friday night’s loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament — and the open Indiana coaching job came up. Here’s everything Alford and the Bruins had to say after their season-ending defeat:
STEVE ALFORD: Well, we knew it was a tough draw. Somebody that was really good wasn’t going to win this game in advance. I’m just really proud of our basketball team. I’ve been in the locker room telling them that, that I’ve been doing this 26 years, and to have a group of young men, and it starts obviously with my two seniors that have just had brilliant careers, not just on the court, but how they’ve grown as young men, which is what the college experience is supposed to be all about. What they’ve done for us in the community, what they’ve done in the classroom, how they’ve represented UCLA in every way, shape or form has been magnificent.
I really think these two seniors, and then the team as a whole have taken us coaches -- sometimes there’s coaches that maybe can take a group of young men on a journey that’s fun. This year was definitely a group of young men that took coaches for a great journey. We started blending this thing back in June, coming off a tough year last year after two Sweet 16s, and to get back to the Sweet 16 and win 31 games, I told the guys, that was one thing, and obviously winning is fun, but how we went about it was remarkable. The character on this team, how they were as teammates, the unselfishness was so fun to watch. They were so fun to coach.
As fans, there’s 36 times fans got to watch this group. I got to watch it every day for about 100 practices. I’m very, very blessed that I had that opportunity because it was a blast watching these young men compete and improve and get better, and we just got beat by a very good team that played very, very well tonight.
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Q. Bryce and Isaac, obviously it’s very emotional, but has it sunk in yet that your careers at UCLA are over?
BRYCE ALFORD: I don’t know, it kind of sinks in pretty quick, I think, knowing that you just lost a game in the NCAA Tournament. Yeah, it’s very emotional. I’ve been with him for four years, played for my dad for four years, so it’s been a great four years. Can’t really complain about anything. Being a senior, in four years, having three Sweet 16s, it’s just been a blast to play at UCLA. I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet, but it’s definitely emotional.
ISAAC HAMILTON: Yeah, same thing, piggy-backing on what Bryce said, real emotion. I’m just blessed to play under Coach Alford. And the whole idea of me coming in and my three years playing, it’s been a blast. It’s been a lot of ups and downs, but couldn’t ask for a better coach and coaching staff.
Q. What was it about Fox tonight that was so hard for you guys to stop, and if you could do it again, how do you think you would try to play him differently?
BRYCE ALFORD: Well, yeah, all credit to him, he’s really, really good. There’s a reason he is who he is and he has the hype around him. He’s very, very talented. Isaac and I were just talking about it. It’s tough to stop a guy who has as good of a mid-range game as he does. That’s a lost art in college basketball, and it’s very hard to stop. The way he used pick-and-rolls, and he could get to the spot that he went to just about every time, and he didn’t miss a whole lot of shots tonight, so you’ve got to give credit to him. If we had to do it all over again, I don’t know if we’d change our game plan. He was just phenomenal tonight.
Q. Bryce, eight minutes into the second half, you guys were trailing by six, yet you were shooting 80 percent. How deflating was that to be playing that well and still be behind?
BRYCE ALFORD: Yeah, we couldn’t get any stops to start the second half. Felt like they were making everything. Felt like we were shooting -- like you said, 80 percent, you can’t really do much better on the offensive end. Credit to them. They made shots tonight. They made a lot of shots. Some that they normally don’t make. They’re a team that’s playing really well right now, and they just got the better of us tonight.
Q. In the first half it’s going back and forth, one point here, one point there, swinging. What was the turning point in the game where you weren’t able to match them?
STEVE ALFORD: I think most of the turning point was in the second half. The first half, I thought was pretty even, and neither team really got in a rhythm offensively and got out and did things in transition, which I think they’re very good at and what we’re very good at.
The second half, it got more up-and-down. I really thought the difference in the game, we had 13 turnovers, they had six. So you get seven more possessions, they got eight more shots. Board play was about even, I think, and to play them about even on the board, I’d take that before the game because they’re a very good rebounding team.
But 16 assists, 13 turnovers, that’s not who we are. So we got a little stagnant in the first half. I thought the second half, our offense opened up and we got to playing the way we normally play offensively. Scored a lot of points, we just didn’t defend in the second half the way we were defending in the first half, and, for whatever reason. One, they’re very, very good, they’re very talented, and Fox had one of those special nights, and Monk got going in the second half, as well. We had foul trouble with Tommy Welsh, which affects kind of the things we want to do, especially rim protection. But we got beat by a very, very good team that played very well today.
Q. Coach, there have been a lot of rumors out there about Indiana and your name being in the mix; have you talked to them, and do you expect --
STEVE ALFORD: I talked about that last week. Our guys have been very focused. I’ve been very focused. I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles. To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.
This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.
I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully that’ll continue.
Q. Ball didn’t have his normal game today. Was it something that they did or he was not healthy or something just wasn’t flowing --
STEVE ALFORD: No, Zo was healthy. I haven’t talked to him other than just to tell him thank you because he’s been a part of this very special ride. It’s been a phenomenal year. Might not have been one of his best games, but it wasn’t a bad game, either. He’s just a very special talent, and he’s going to go on and have a phenomenal career. I’ve said it from day one. In my mind he’s the No. 1 draft pick. He’s just been -- the way he can orchestrate a team is phenomenal.
So one night where things didn’t click, I don’t think is going to change anything. We’re 31-5, a very special team, and he was obviously a big, big part of that, and I appreciate how he wanted to be coached. For somebody that in my mind is the No. 1 pick, we’ll have to wait and see how that works. But sometimes those guys aren’t real coachable, and he was phenomenal to coach. I mean, phenomenal. I’m talking never had a bad practice, never showed up just to put in time. He worked, he worked on his game. He watched film with us. He took care of his body. He was just the absolute perfect individual to coach.
You don’t see that a lot in the one-and-done era. I give him a lot of credit, and I think because of those characteristics, I think he’s going to have an incredible career.
Q. You talk about one-and-done. He said in the locker room that he’s done at UCLA. Had you all talked about this beforehand or did you expect this to be the end if there was a loss?
STEVE ALFORD: Look, I assumed. I probably don’t like to assume anything, but he’s pretty good, so -- and we want our guys, whether we like the era or not, I always tell our guys that I played in the short-short era, and I played in the era where nobody left school. It’s a different era. Guys can make a very good living sooner than what it was two decades ago, three decades ago. We’ve had our share of some very good one-and-dones. Last year doesn’t get talked about a lot, but year three, part of our struggle was that in a two-year frame we lost seven guys to the NBA. Now we’re going to lose some in this group, too.
But we’ve been able to, I think, get that culture back, and whether it’s Zo or others, they’ve had a lot to do with it, and how Bryce and Isaac have handled two Sweet 16s and then a rough year, how they never wavered, they never complained, they never whined, they stayed the course, too, they’re going to have as much about this going forward, as well.
Like I said, a tremendous recruiting class coming. We’ve just got to continue to build on it.