Steve Alford talked to reporters before UCLA boarded the team bus on Tuesday around noon. During the session, he gave the Bruins’ upcoming opponent a favorable comparison.
“They’re very long,” he said of sixth-seeded SMU. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical. We’re really comparing them to Arizona, to be honest with you. If you’re looking for a team to compare them to in our league, of how they play, how they look, it’s Arizona.
“They only average making four threes a game, but they shoot 48-49 percent from the field. They get a lot of paint scores — that’s Arizona. They run in transition — that’s Arizona. They’re a tremendous rebounding team — that’s Arizona.”
UCLA arrives in Las Vegas for one last chance to show that its worthy of a spot in the Big Dance.
The Bruins enter the Pac-12 Tournament likely needing two wins to feel secure heading into Selection Sunday, but that would almost certainly mean knocking off top-seeded Arizona in the semifinals.
“This team has a lot to prove, I think,” said UCLA point guard Bryce Alford. “We know what we’re capable of. I don’t know if the nation knows that yet. We haven’t really done all that much to show what we’re capable of. But we know it as a team. We’ve seen glimpses of it. … I think we can beat just about anybody on any given night. We’ve got to go out there and prove it.”
The competition starts today at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, with a first-round game between USC and Arizona State that will determine who UCLA faces at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Trojans and Sun Devils tip off at 2:30 p.m. today.
“I’d want to play against Arizona State, just because we let one slip away up there,” said senior Norman Powell. “It was a close game. Honestly, whoever wins that game, we’re just going to go at it the same way.”
UCLA beat USC, 85-74, on Wednesday to clinch the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament — also ensuring a last-place finish for the Trojans. The Bruins will need to win at least one game in Las Vegas to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture.
“We’ve still got work to do, just like a lot of teams in the country,” head coach Steve Alford said. “You can’t stop. You’ve got work to do. This team’s playing better. It’s playing very good at the right time.”
Head coach Steve Alford talked about UCLA’s 6 p.m. Wednesday tipoff against USC, what that regular-season finale means for the Bruins’ postseason, as well as how the Trojans have looked without Jordan McLaughlin (shoulder).
Steve Alford called UCLA’s 72-67 win over Washington State a “gut-check” for his team, one that came when none of the pressure was on the ninth-place visitors. The Bruins trailed for nearly 25 minutes, and only led by three points with 15 seconds left.
“Sometimes a sloppy game can look sloppy because there are a lot of free throws,” he said, pointing out that UCLA had 31 attempts to WSU’s 12. “I’ve got to watch tape. We only have 11 turnovers on the night. That’s a low-turnover game again. Assists are down because we’re driving so hard. … There’s a lot of positives with this game.”