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Thursday, November 10, 2016
OCR: UCLA basketball preview: Bruins seeking simple answers in 2016-17
NOV 8, 2016 | CLAY FOWLER | O.C. REGISTER | ARTICLE LINK
Steve Alford didn’t need a plane to fly a banner over the UCLA campus in March to apprise him of the toasty temperature of his seat.
Amid public cries for the UCLA basketball coach’s firing after he led the program to its fourth losing record in the past 68 years, Alford could have tightened his grip and held on for the rest of his ride.
Instead, the fourth-year coach is loosening the reins.
Alford’s philosophy this season is to keep things simple. In other words, he is putting his fate in the hands of the exceptional talent he recruited to Westwood last year.
After cycling through a multitude of schemes last season on the way to a 10th-place finish in the Pac-12, Alford is determined not to make the same mistake.
He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of a rare blend of talented freshman and accomplished veterans that earned UCLA a No. 16 ranking for the only team in the Associated Press preseason poll that had a losing record last season.
“We messed around with doing too many things last year, and obviously personnel can dictate some of that,” Alford said. “And we ended up having a bad year, so now what do you do moving forward and how do you handle that adversity?”
While UCLA was struggling last season, Lonzo Ball was leading Chino Hills High to a California state championship and a No. 1 national ranking, averaging a triple-double while his team scored nearly 100 points per game.
Alford is handing his freshman point guard the keys. And he wants him to drive fast.
With a stable of guards and some athletic big men, including the other two members of Rivals.com’s No. 5 recruiting class in the country, UCLA wants to live in transition.
Alford is so committed to an up-tempo offense, he has experimented with a four-guard lineup that not only fuels the fast break, but consolidates the talent on the floor.
UCLA’s backcourt is so deep, starting three guards still doesn’t prevent Aaron Holiday from losing the starting position he held last year as a freshman.
Senior Isaac Hamilton’s 16.8 points per game last season make him the top returning scorer in the Pac-12. As evidenced by his 16.1 points per game, senior Bryce Alford belongs in the shooting guard role Ball’s presence will finally allow him to play.
Combined with a starting frontcourt whose two members were already named to preseason award watch lists at their respective positions that include just 20 players each, there are plenty of offensive weapons in the arsenal.
Ball, whose ability is such that nobody would be surprised if he played one season before making the leap to the NBA, is the player trusted with tying them all together.
“Guys make the game more complex when they start over-thinking and at the end of the day, it’s basketball, it’s easy for him,” Hamilton said of Ball. “And I think that’s what’s going to help him is making it simple. Keep it simple and bring that same winning mentality he’s always had.”
Two of the freshmen are lauded for their offensive abilities – forward T.J. Leaf scored 19 points in just 20 minutes of UCLA’s lone exhibition game – but the depth they provide could be enough to combat the defensive concerns looming for the Bruins.
Bryce Alford acknowledged that he and Hamilton have developed a reputation for less than stellar defense, but with less responsibility thanks to the freshmen, they are hungry to show they’re capable of being part of the solution for UCLA’s largest looming weakness.
“We’re going to be a good team regardless, but to be a great team we’ve got to work on the defensive end,” Bryce Alford said. “Guys like Isaac and I, we’re asked a lot of on the offensive end and we’re going to have to score the ball a lot. But I think you’re going to be able to see us really dig deep defensively.”