|Steve Alford spoke to reporters at Sunday morning's press conference in Maui.|
LAHAINA, Hawaii – UCLA head coach Steve Alford met with the media at a pre-tournament press conference Sunday morning, one day before the three-day Maui Jim Maui Invitational tips off at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Alford, who is making his second trip to the Maui Invitational as a head coach, spoke about the team’s growth early in the season and what he expects when UCLA opens its tournament schedule Monday evening against UNLV.
“When you’re invited to a tournament like this, you know that it’s an elite tournament that is going to have elite teams,” Alford said. “You’re striving to be one of those teams. Now, you may not be that in November. We weren’t that in November last year, but you want to have an idea of what you need to work on to become an elite team.”
The Bruins (2-1) will take on UNLV (3-0) on Monday at 8:30 pm PT (6:30 pm HT) in a matchup that will be nationally televised on ESPN2. UCLA has compiled a 4-0 all-time record against UNLV, but the two schools have not faced each other since 1998.
UNLV enters the Maui Jim Maui Invitational having recorded consecutive wins over Cal Poly, New Mexico Highlands and Southern Utah to open the year. Sophomore guard Patrick McCaw has averaged a team-leading 16.7 points per game, while freshman center Stephen Zimmerman has logged a team-best 9.7 rebounds per game (along with 12.7 points per game, third best on the team).
“They’re a different team from last year with multiple new starters,” Alford said. “They have Ben Carter, a very talented transfer from Oregon and then Zimmerman who heads a very good recruiting class. [Jerome] Seagers had to sit out last year, but he is now doing a very good job for them. He takes care of the ball and he makes good decisions. They are such an athletic team. They bring a lot of athleticism off the bench, where if things don’t go well, they’ve got the athletic ability to make things happen at both ends of the floor. It’s a great mix.”
UCLA will face either No. 4 Kansas or Chaminade on Tuesday. The winner of the UCLA-UNLV matchup will take on the winner of the Kansas-Chaminade game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT (5 p.m. HT). That contest will be nationally televised on ESPN. The losing teams will compete Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. PT (11:30 a.m. HT).
Opposite the Bruins’ side of the bracket are Vanderbilt, St. John’s, Wake Forest and Indiana.
This marks the fifth appearance for UCLA in the Maui Invitational. The Bruins won the tournament in the fall of 2006 and also appeared in Maui in the fall of 1995, 2001 and 2011. For this year’s UCLA squad, the upcoming three games in as many days will provide a measuring stick as the team progresses deeper into its non-conference schedule.
“It can take a while to get to know your team and for your team to get to know you,” Alford said. “I think that’s why we are still a work in progress. Now, we have to play three very difficult games in three days. We will leave this island knowing exactly what we need to work on and the things that we need to tidy up as we move into our December schedule. This is a great tournament. We are nowhere near a finished product, but in our last two games we have taken positive steps in the right direction.”