Mar 15, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UCLA Bruins guard/forward Kyle Anderson (5) shoots against Arizona Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon (11, left) and guard T.J. McConnell (4) during the second half in the championship game of the Pac-12 Conference college basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats 75-71. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Alford’s ‘Teaching Moment’: the Best Thing that Could Have Happened to UCLA Men’s Basketball?

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” 
― William Arthur Ward

A funny thing happened to the UCLA men’s basketball team on the way to the NCAA tournament–Head Coach Steve Alford decided that it was time for him to let everybody know that he’s firmly in charge of the Bruins program. Back on February 27th, Alford suspended sophomore point guard/forward Kyle Anderson and sophomore guard Jordan Adams one game each for violating unspecified team rules. At the time of the suspensions, Anderson and Adams were the Bruins’ top two scorers, and undoubtedly, their best two all-around players. They were also very much needed for the following game against the streaking Oregon Ducks, especially with Alford having typically only used an eight-man rotation (including Anderson and Adams) all season, and the Bruins still fighting for their eventual NCAA tournament seed.

February 27, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins forward David Wear (12) shoots a three point basket against the Oregon Ducks during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I’m pretty sure that just about no one gave the Bruins a chance to beat the Ducks, even if they were playing at Pauley Pavilion. As may have been expected, the Bruins were down by 15 points early in the second half. But, there they were, swarming David Wear, after he had hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at 71 at the end of regulation. The plucky short-handed Bruins managed to extend the game to a second overtime before ultimately falling to the Ducks 87-83.

The television cameras often found Anderson and Adams intently watching the game and enthusiastically cheering for their teammates. Whatever they may have thought of Alford suspending them, they certainly didn’t seem to be pouting about it for the world to see. They both returned to face Oregon State several days later and helped lead the Bruins to a victory. The team went on to beat the Washington Huskies on the road before falling flat against Washington State to close out the regular season.

After the loss to Washington State, there were certainly some doubts about the mindset of the team heading into the Pac-12 Tournament. But those doubts were quickly erased when the Bruins crushed the Ducks–who had won eight games in a row–by 19 points to open the tournament. The Bruins proceeded to demolish Stanford by 25 points, which set them up for a showdown against the Arizona Wildcats in the championship game. Anderson and Adams took over against the Wildcats, with Anderson scoring 21 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and dishing out 5 assists, and Adams scoring 19 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists. Adams also stood out with a late hustle play where he and Travis Wear both dove for a loose ball that UCLA ultimately recovered, and he also hit the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute to go in the second half.

Mar 15, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Jordan Adams (3) shoots against Arizona Wildcats guard Nick Johnson (13) during the second half in the championship game of the Pac-12 Conference college basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats 75-71. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins, and Anderson and Adams particularly, seemed really determined to beat the Wildcats in the championship game. There’s really no way to tell if that determination will carry over into the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins were also cruising through last season’s Pac-12 Tournament, gutting out a big win over the higher-ranked Arizona Wildcats, but fell to the Ducks in the championship game. The Bruins played as if they were heart-broken, against the Ducks, having lost Jordan Adams for the rest of the post-season to a broken foot–which occurred at the very end of the Arizona game. With the team apparently at full-strength entering the NCAA Tournament, and carrying the title of ‘Pac-12 Champions’ after defeating the #4-ranked Wildcats, the Bruins are poised to make a deep run this time around.

One can only speculate as to what ran through Steve Alford’s head before he decided to suspend Anderson and Adams. It certainly wouldn’t be a stretch, however, to assume that he must have wondered how the suspensions would affect the team heading into both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, respectively. Since Anderson and Adams have returned, the Bruins have won five of six games, and are playing some of their best basketball of the season. The fact that Anderson and Adams have taken their roles as team leaders seriously and willed the Bruins to a Pac-12 Championship with first-rate performances against the Wildcats only tends to support the notion that Alford made the right call. With the Bruins opening up their tournament journey Friday night against Tulsa in San Diego, we’re about to find out just how right Alford’s call really was in creating a ‘teaching moment’.

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