UCLA coach Steve Alford knows Kentucky is better team now than when Bruins beat UK

Here is some of what UCLA coach Steve Alford had to say Sunday night after his Bruins beat Cincinnati to set up a Friday night rematch with Kentucky in Memphis.

Q. It’s not often you may a nonconference opponent twice in the season now you are going to play Kentucky. You beat them on their home court and now you’re going to have to play a team with an edge. How do you go about with the mindset?
STEVE ALFORD: We’ll enjoy this. We got a flight back we’re going to enjoy, get back to Westwood and enjoy this, get tomorrow off. At least we know them pretty well as far as prep goes and they obviously know us and I’ve got a ton of respect for Cal, his staff and their team.

It’s a very, very good basketball team and I think they’re better now in March than they were when we played them in December, and I think we’re better than what we were in December as well. Makes for a great match-up. I don’t know if all the other regions went chalk, but it’s 1, 2, 3, 4 in the south. So that south region and bracket is going to be a lot of fun.

Q. Steve, how important was pace and tempo in this game? Secondly, the gauntlet here coming up could be Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas in that order. How well prepared is this team for that?
STEVE ALFORD: I think we’re very well prepared for whatever is thrown at us, just because we’re 35 games in. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It gets tougher each bracket that you get to. This bracket that we’re getting ready to take on next weekend, that’s a demanding bracket. This team sitting March 20th now, and every team we’ve played on our schedule we’ve beaten, every single team we’ve beaten and I don’t know how many. I bet there’s three, four, five teams in the Sweet 16 that we’ve already played.

So the schedule has been great. I think we’ve been drilled for this and for our guys to be this consistent, and you get 31 wins at this level your guys have done a lot of good things. We’ll prepare for them, do the best we can and we know we got a tall order ahead of us. We also know we’re a very good basketball team.

Q. I know the whole goal is to win a National Championship. Three straight Sweet 16s, that is an accomplishment within itself. Talk about that experience?
BRYCE ALFORD: Getting to the Sweet 16 is very difficult let alone just getting into the tournament, so for me to be able to say at the end of my career I’ve been to three Sweet 16s at the end of four years is a blessing. I’m proud of that and the teammates I have had over the four years and it just shows we’ve been successful for four years. I know that the goal is to get to a Championship, get into the Sweet 16 is very difficult in and of itself.

Q. Steve, in all your years of basketball when this team is clicking like this is that some of the most impressive stuff that you’ve seen over the years?
STEVE ALFORD: It’s fun. We talked about it all year. The national media has talked about it all year. I think they’ve been point on. I don’t know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we’re clicking and we’ve had a lot of games where we’ve been clicking. I think the difference is in the last seven weeks we’ve been better defensively. Now we can go to a different level offensively and you saw that in the second half.

Bryce has mentioned it. Guys have mentioned it. It’s just a blessing. They’re taking our coaching staff on an incredible journey all year long! It started in the summer, back in June, July, we go to Australia together. This entire journey, it’s been a Godsend. We’re very blessed that we’ve had this opportunity to do that and now we get to the next bracket and hopefully we can keep this thing going.

If any group of guys deserves it, it’s this group of guys. They deserve everything that they’re getting because of how hard they’ve worked, the type of character they have, how well they get along, the chemistry we’ve have. They’ve been a complete joy to coach.

Q. Steve, I wanted to ask you to address the tempo and the pace. How important was that?
STEVE ALFORD: Yes, I failed to do that. I apologize.

Q. That’s okay.
STEVE ALFORD: We talked about that at half time. The first 20 minutes was Cincinnati’s pace, 33-30. They were being efficient offensively. Our defensive efficiency was 110. We talked about that. It can’t be there. It’s got to be in the 90s for us to have a chance. I haven’t seen the last numbers, but my oldest son told me our offensive efficiency in the second half was 150-something, and if that’s true, that’s crazy. It doesn’t happen very often, so we got the tempo going in the second half at a much faster pace than what it was in the first.

Q. Steve, there is a published report out saying that you’ve been offered a contract by Indiana.
STEVE ALFORD: I addressed the Indiana situation maybe Thursday, and I don’t have anything else to say on that. This is about our team. I’ve already addressed that matter and I’m not going to address it anymore. This is about our team and what these guys are doing. Like I’ve said over and over again, it’s a journey I feel blessed to have a chance to be a head coach at UCLA and in particular this group of young men and the young men that we have in our locker room, it’s phenomenal. I’m going to enjoy this ride as long as we possibly can.

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