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Sports

March 21, 2014

Manning, TU aim at UCLA

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 today 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.”

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