SAN DIEGO – At the most critical juncture of UCLA's season, with the Bruins reeling from an 18-point loss at lowly Washington State earlier this month, Steve Alford did something many coaches in his position wouldn't have done.
Instead of forcing his team to endure a grueling practice or a marathon film session as punishment, Alford gave the Bruins two days off and surprised them by showing a highlight video of their best moments this season rather than the Washington State tape when they returned.
"It was a huge relief," senior forward Travis Wear said. "As a player, you dread going into film after a loss like that. To not have to relive that experience and to say forget about it and move on, we were all really happy. He knew we were a better team than that. We knew we were a better team than that. There was no reason to go back, watch that film and see ourselves play that poorly."
Shrewd decisions like that one are helping Alford gradually build a case that he's the right coach for UCLA despite rampant skepticism among Bruins fans when athletic director Dan Guerrero plucked him from New Mexico last spring. UCLA has responded to Alford's psychological ploy with its best stretch of the season, punctuating a five-game win streak by overwhelming 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin 77-60 on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16.
If Thursday's matchup with top-seeded Florida will be UCLA's first Sweet 16 trip since 2008, it ends an even longer drought for Alford. The first-year UCLA coach is making his first Sweet 16 appearance since 1999, an accomplishment that he downplayed even though it will surely help win over critics who questioned whether a coach with a history of early NCAA tournament wash-outs could succeed at a program with the expectations and pedigree of UCLA.
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