Alabama basketball, Credit: Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports
New UCLA head coach Steve Alford isn’t shying away from a challenge as he settles into his first season with the Bruins. Unlike his predecessor Ben Howland, Alford has made a point to ramp up the competition in the early going. Just ten days after a 2013 matchup with Duke was announced, word came down that the Alabama Crimson Tide have been added to the non-conference slate as well. The matchup doesn’t carry as much hype as the meeting with the Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden, but it’s still a step in the right direction for the Bruins, who’ve usually played a plethora of cupcake California teams in recent years.
The Tide will roll into Pauley Pavilion for the front half of a home and home series this season, and the Bruins will return the favor at Coleman Coliseum in 2014-15. Interestingly, UCLA and Alabama have only met thrice in basketball, with the Bruins holding a 2-1 lead in the all-time series. UCLA won the most recent meeting in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, but the Tide won the only ever pairing at Pauley back in 1983. Could this be the first chapter of a new rivalry? Probably not, but it should still be fun.
Here’s the tweet from CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein that broke the news of the cross-sectional showdown.
The Bama basketball team is definitely little brother in Tuscaloosa, home of the two-time defending BCS Champs in football, but that doesn’t mean the Tide can’t play. Alabama made the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12, which is more than UCLA can say, and followed it up with a 23-win season in 2012-13. And though the Tide were forced to settle for the NIT last year, the program is clearly finding its footing with fifth-year head coach Anthony Grant.
The Bruins had success versus the SEC on the hardwood last season, taking down Georgia at the Barclays Center and then-No. 7 Missouri in Westwood. But if they hope to keep it up next year, they’ll have to find a way to contain scintillating senior Trevor Releford, Alabama’s leading scorer from a season ago.
On top of his 14.9 points per game, Releford brings a veteran awareness to the court that any team would value. The 6’0″ guard also chipped in 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists to bolster his effort, easily making him the most versatile player on the Tide roster. If he finds his stride on the court in So. Cal next season, it could be a long night for Coach Alford and the Bruins. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen.