Steve Alford has advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second week and failed to make it to the first day. He’s won a Pac-12 Conference tournament championship and crashed in the opening round. He’s earned a contract extension and given it back.
There hasn’t been nearly as much contrast when it comes to the UCLA coach’s fortunes on the road in the Pac-12.
The Bruins have gone 11-19 in conference road games during Alford’s four seasons, failing to sweep a two-game trip in 13 chances.
“It doesn’t bother me any,” Alford said late Thursday night, after his fourth-ranked team put itself in position to secure its first road sweep with a runaway victory over Colorado. “It’s just I want it for this team.”
Road sweeps are rare in the Pac-12. Last season, a conference team did it six times in 48 attempts. Only Arizona and Oregon have done it this season.
UCLA (17-1 overall, 4-1 in Pac-12 play) could become the latest team to join the club Saturday afternoon when it faces Utah (12-4, 3-1) at the Huntsman Center, where Alford’s Bruins have dropped both of their games since he arrived in Westwood.
He won’t be the only Alford with something to prove.
UCLA shooting guard Bryce Alford has gone scoreless in each of his two previous trips here. He missed all 10 shots during the Bruins’ 22-point loss in January 2015 and all four shots — plus a free throw — during a five-point setback in January 2014.
Success on Saturday would mean more than personal redemption for a team eager to show it can win anywhere.
“Any time you’re trying to win a championship, you’ve got to do that,” Bryce Alford said. “You’ve got to do well on the road.”
The Bruins showed that the distance above sea level isn’t always as relevant as the distance from the basket on Thursday against Colorado, shrugging off a sluggish start at least partially induced by the altitude to make a school-record 19 three-pointers. Bryce Alford tied the school record held by himself and Jason Kapono by making nine shots from beyond the arc.
UCLA made 19 of 31 three-pointers (61.3%), allowing it to win in a runaway.
“It can be deflating when you make a 4-0 run,” Steve Alford said of a Bruins opponent, “and then all of a sudden we go bam-bam with threes.”
Colorado tried to run stride for stride with UCLA, a fatal mistake against a team featuring the most efficient offense in the country, according to analytics savant Ken Pomeroy. The Bruins rank No. 3 nationally in scoring (93.4 points per game) while leading the country in three-point accuracy (44.1%) and assists per game (22.4).
“We wear people down,” Bryce Alford said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the country that can play at our pace for a full 40 minutes.”
The Bruins might appear to be the more ragged team Saturday, at least in the early going. They didn’t depart Colorado until Friday afternoon because of a late start time against the Buffaloes and will have a quick turnaround with a game roughly 24 hours later against one of the Pac-12’s elite teams.
Utah is 9-1 at home this season, including a 22-point victory over No. 25 USC on Thursday, and has won 10 consecutive conference games at the Huntsman Center. The Utes’ only home loss this season came against then-No. 18 Butler in November.
UCLA hopes to hang a second home defeat on Utah while accomplishing a first under Steve Alford.
“If we can get it,” Bryce Alford said, “that would be huge.”
When: 3 p.m. PST, Saturday.
Where: Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 1150.
Update: Utah has been bolstered by transfers David Collette (15.4 points per game) and Sedrick Barefield (12.1), who became eligible last month. They are just two of six players averaging double figures in scoring, making the Utes one of a handful of teams that can match UCLA’s balance. Utah could prove particularly pesky on the boards because the Utes are averaging 8.3 more rebounds than their opponents, the biggest differential in the Pac-12 Conference. Rebounding has been an issue for the Bruins, who have allowed opponents to snag double-digit offensive rebounds in four of five conference games.