SAN DIEGO —
This would have been a great matchup back in the 1980s, Danny Manning against Steve Alford.
Alford led Indiana to the NCAA title in 1987. Manning and the Kansas Jayhawks were the last team to cut down the nets a year later.
They’ll be on the sideline Friday, when Manning makes his head coaching debut in the NCAA tournament by leading 13th-seeded Tulsa (21-12) against No. 4 seed UCLA (26-8) in the South Region.
Odds a bit long that Manning will lead the Golden Hurricane to the national title. But it’s a big deal that he’s gotten Tulsa here in his second season as head coach.
Tulsa started out 0-4 and 1-6, including losing to Creighton and Wichita State in consecutive games. It finally got things right and has won 11 straight, including the Conference USA tournament title, and 17 of 20. It has won eight straight at road or neutral sites.
“To our guys’ credit, they came into practice each and every game hungry and wanting to get better and little bit little we started to put it together and piece it together and now these guys go out and we have a little bit of swagger about us in terms of how we play,” Manning said Thursday.
The Golden Hurricane will need every bit of that swagger against UCLA, which stunned Arizona to win the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins have a decided size advantage, and it’s practically a home game for them, just a two-hour drive down the freeway from Westwood.
“We know that there are going to be a lot of UCLA chants and T-shirts and things of that nature and we’re prepared for that,” Manning said.
He added that he’s told his players that they need to practice like they were 0-4 or 1-6 — “Remember what that felt like? Let’s not go back there, let’s make sure we don’t go back there. Don’t forget the tough days, the hard days and remember how we got here and why we got here and we did it together and we did it on the back of hard work.”
Manning and Alford spoke glowingly about one another.
“Danny Manning, he was a great player, but when you talk to people, you will find out how great of a person he is, how great of a man he is,” said Alford, in his first year as Bruins coach and his 23rd overall as a head coach.
“Steve was a great competitor, a great shooter,” said Manning, who also won a national title as an assistant coach with Kansas six years ago. “I’ve known him for a while and he’s always been someone that gets the best out of his players.”
Here are five things to watch when Tulsa plays UCLA:
HISTORY: Twenty years ago, 12th-seeded Tulsa upset fifth-seeded UCLA 112-102 in the first round and made it to the regional semifinals before losing to eventual national champion Arkansas. The Bruins won the national championship the following season, saved in the second round by Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast dash for a layup at the buzzer in a 75-74 win against Missouri. Edney is in his fourth season on UCLA’s staff.
MISMATCH: The Bruins will enjoy a decided size advantage, with 6-foot-10 twins David and Travis Wear, and 6-9 Kyle Anderson. All three weigh 230 pounds. Tulsa starts a three-guard lineup, with a frontcourt of 6-7 Rashad Smith and 6-9, 247-pound D’Andre Wright
OPENING-GAME BLUES: Alford has been one-and-done three times in his six NCAA tournament appearances as a Division I coach, including last year when his third-seeded New Mexico Lobos were upset by 14th-seeded Harvard. “A lot of people talk about hitting a re-set button and you do in a way, from your scouting and those types of things,” Alford said. “As a player you get the freshness of playing somebody else, but so does your opponent, and that’s why it’s scary.”
NOT THE BRUIN WAY: UCLA has just two wins in the NCAA tournament since 2009, which is why Ben Howland was fired last March and replaced with Alford. “We’re laying a foundation,” Alford said. “I think that’s what year one is about. ... You’re not at UCLA if it’s not important to advance in the NCAA tournament.”
TULSA TIME: The Golden Hurricane is making its 15th appearance in the NCAA tournament, and first since 2003, when it beat Dayton before losing to Wisconsin. Its record is 12-14. It has reached the Sweet Sixteen three times and Elite Eight once. UCLA, of course, has more national championships than any other school, 11, and is 100-38 overall.