As UCLA continues to hover near the bottom of the Pac-12, head coach Steve Alford said he’s had to adjust how he motivates his Bruins.
Recently, that’s meant fewer references to the big picture, one that has the team sitting uncomfortably outside almost every NCAA Tournament projection. With just three weeks left in his third regular season in Los Angeles, Alford said his latest group of players has not responded as well to pressure as their predecessors.
“That’s been me, not them,” he added. “Anytime I’ve applied a little bit of that mental pressure, we haven’t handled it well. It’s learning your team. Last year’s team handled that really well.”
After starting 2016 with back-to-back losses at Washington and Washington State, the Bruins (14-11, 5-7) have yet to move above .500 at any point in conference play. If that trend holds, it will be a first for the program since the league expanded to 10 teams in 1978.
But that’s exactly the sort of thing that Alford doesn’t want his team to think about. A year ago, stressing urgency worked for UCLA, something that the coach attributed in part to the presence of senior guard Norman Powell.
This season, the staff has learned that it’s better to steer the team’s focus in a different way. One difference is by integrating “three keys” for each game, so as to keep the Bruins from getting overloaded with information during game-week preparation.
“The way we respond to things, I think, is a little bit different,” said junior point guard Bryce Alford. “I think we’ve done a better job when our coaches give us a one-game scenario.”