LOUISVILLE — For two long years, Bryce Alford has heard his critics. They've been loud. They've been relentless.
And they've been proven wrong.
The coach's son who supposedly wasn't talented enough to play at a place like UCLA has now nearly single-handedly won an NCAA tournament game for the Bruins. Bryce's 9-for-11 shooting beyond the arc buoyed the Bruins in their opening game against SMU, a contest they seemingly tried their darndest to lose, allowing the Mustangs a 19-0 run in the second half. Bryce's keen shooting kept UCLA in the game, and his attempt at a game-winning three — which resulted in a controversial goaltending call — won the game. Bryce was mobbed by teammates. His dad watched from the sidelines — his son, the hero.
"It's tough, being a coach's kid," Bryce said Friday. "It's not something I can really explain to anybody unless you are a coach's kid. You really don't know what it's like. I'm under the microscope 100% of the time. It's just something that comes with having the last name of Alford. Whether I was playing for him or not, I'm still a coach's kid.
"Being able to play for him at a school like UCLA, you get a lot of heat. It's been something that I've had to go through for my entire first two years. I know it's not going to stop."
Bryce has felt that heat every day he's been on the UCLA campus, and many times it even originates with UCLA fans. Because Bryce was committed to play for his father when he coached at the University of New Mexico, many outsiders figured Bryce wasn't high-major college basketball material.
"He knew it was coming," says walk-on Kory Alford, Bryce's older brother and teammate. "He expected it. He's done a really good job of moving through that and fighting on. … As a coach's son, you're always going to have that pressure and expectation. Some people are going to like you, some people aren't. That's just how it is."
As a sophomore this season, Bryce has averaged 15.4 points, 4.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. His game-high 27 points — all threes — on Thursday drew the obvious comparisons his father's postseason heroics as a player at Indiana University, where he won an NCAA championship in 1987.
"He's one of the best college basketball players of all time, in my opinion — obviously, I'm a little biased," Bryce said. "He was an incredible player in college. I'm not so much trying to live up to him or trying to be as good as he is, I'm just trying to be my own player and make a name for myself."
No one has enjoyed that process more than his father himself. Like Georgia State coach Ron Hunter, who fell out of his chair celebrating his son's game-winner on Thursday, UCLA coach Steve Alford was able to appreciate something special with his son directly involved this week.
"After you've done it for as long as I've done it, both as a player and now as a coach and you're doing it with everybody else's children, it's nice too that when you've got (your own)," Steve Alford said. "It's always fun to go back and watch tape, obviously, when your son does things like that. But we still have fun with it. As I told him, the most threes I ever made, I only had the three-point line one year … the most I ever made (in one game) was eight.
"The dad in me says, 'You made eight, son, because the ninth one never did go in the basket. You got credit for it.' The coach in me says, 'Okay, I'll give you credit because without that ninth one, we wouldn't have advanced.' Coach says you got nine, but when I put my dad hat on, it's still 8-8."
As a high schooler, Bryce occasionally watched old footage of his father. He saw his dad play alongside Michael Jordan in the 1984 Olympics, and other games from around that era.
Sort of by design, and kind of on purpose, Bryce hasn't focused too much on his father's playing career.
"We've kind of kept it a little bit distant in … not trying to compare each other," Bryce said. "He's a different player than I was. Obviously, there are similarities. Being his son, we're obviously going to have similarities in the way we play. It's always been something that we both talked about — for me not to try to live up to being who he was as a player but to try to be my own player and make an identity for myself."
One breakout performance on the NCAA tournament stage doesn't automatically accomplish that. But it's certainly a start.
GALLERY: NCAA TOURNAMENT ACTION