UCLA head coach Steve Alford has experienced March Madness in just about every way possible. He was a starter on the Hoosiers' '87 title team and he's brought small, medium, and large schools to the big dance. In his first year in Westwood, Alford led his Bruins to a 26-8 record, a second place regular season finish in the Pac-12, and a conference tourney title earned with a win over #4 Arizona. Friday, UCLA takes on Tulsa in San Diego for the Round of 64. It will be Alford's eighth appearance as a head coach in the national tournament and he's ready to go.
We asked Alford what he's learned over the years and how that has informed his strategies for this Bruins team. He gave us his six rules for surviving March Madness.
Let the Players Do Their Jobs
Because the best players only stay for a year, college basketball is increasingly defined by its coaches. Once the tourney rolls around, the best coaches - Alford points to his experience with Bobby Knight as a player at Indiana - know how to get out of players' heads. The prep work needs to have been done before tip off.
ALFORD: "I've always thought March is the players' month. I thought that as a player and I think that now, 23 years into the business. And it should be. You can only do shell drills, screening drills, and spacing drills for so long. We've been doing it through 100 practices now, so I don’t think that all of a sudden it's going to click if we're not doing it right. I think that the guys know what the program is about, what we want to emphasize offensively and defensively, and what our principles should be. You've either built that at this point and can work together or you're not going to get to experience March for very long.
Relaxing the players and getting them doing what they need to do is a part of coaching, but players are the ones who make the plays. I've been on both sides of it, and coaches look a lot better when players make plays. If they don't.... The importance of March needs to be more on the players, because it's a player's game.
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