UCLA Coach Steve Alford knows all too well how little a team’s seeding can mean.
The Bruins go into the NCAA tournament as a fourth-seeded team and open in San Diego against 13th-seeded Tulsa Friday in Viejas Arena.
“To be one top of the four seeded teams in a region, that’s important, for our first year, building the foundation, winning the Pac-12 [tournament] championship,” Alford said.
It also kept UCLA on the West Coast.
But that’s where the special privileges end. Tulsa is unlikely to knuckle under just because the Bruins are a higher-seeded team.
“We made a good push the last two weeks, and I feel like we’re playing our best basketball,” Alford said. “We really feel well about being in the tournament. That being said, you got to play well. You got to make shots, you got to defend.”
An Alford-coached team has been beyond the first weekend in the tournament once, and that was with an upstart Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) team that reached the round of 16 in 1999. He has had three teams that were seeded third in the tournament — Iowa in 2006 and New Mexico in 2010 and 2013. Only the 2010 Lobos won a game in the tournament, going 1-1.
A lot depends on matchups, momentum and experience.
Alford’s 2010 team struggled past Montana in its opener. Forward Darington Hobson, who led the Lobos in scoring, rebounding and assists, injured a wrist during the game. He was less than effective in a second-round loss to Washington.
“We had only six healthy bodies,” Alford said.
Last season, the Lobos were upset by Harvard in the first round.
“We were probably a year ahead of things,” Alford said. “We thought we were ready to make a run. We won so many games by two, three, four points. That team was really tough minded. But the pressure hit in the last five minutes. Harvard handled it well and we didn’t.”
Since the NCAA began seeding teams, fourth-seeded teams have a 91-25 record. That means there were 25 upsets.
“This time of year, you hit the reset button,” Alford said. “Everyone does. You lose and you go home, you play well, you advance. You have to sit on that all summer.”
And the Bruins?
“I think our mind-set is really good heading into this tournament,” Alford said.
Sophomore Jordan Adams may be a little more giddy about the Bruins reaching the NCAA tournament than some of his teammates. It’s his first time.
Adams suffered a broken foot against Arizona in a Pac-12 semifinal a year ago. He did not travel with the team to its second-round game against Minnesota in Austin, Texas.
“I’m so excited this year, I can’t wait,” Adams said. “I remember sitting on my couch. There was a big chunk missing from me.”
The Bruins as well. Without Adams, the team’s leading scorer, UCLA was routed, 83-63.
“You have an injury like that, with one of your best players going down, it makes it hard,” Alford said.
UCLA averages 81.8 points per game, seventh among teams that reached the NCAA tournament. … The Bruins have a 1-4 record in games in which they have scored less than 70 points. …Freshman forward Wanaah Bail underwent surgery to remove torn cartilage in his left knee on Tuesday. He will not be available this weekend and UCLA said his return at any point this season was questionable.