Steve Alford expects resolution to UCLA shoplifting investigation soon

UCLA coach Steve Alford shouts to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Bakersfield in Los Angeles Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. UCLA won 75-66. (Reed Saxon/AP)

UCLA is already free from the Ball Family drama and it will soon be able to move on from the international shoplifting scandal that struck five weeks ago.

Head coach Steve Alford said Thursday he expects a resolution to the student conduct investigation involving freshmen Jalen Hill and Cody Riley within one week and as early as the end of this week. When the final decision comes from UCLA’s Office of Student Conduct, Alford will be involved in any possible further discipline pertaining to the basketball team for the two freshmen who were arrested, along with LiAngelo Ball, for shoplifting in Hangzhou, China last month.

“It’s just one more of those distractions that we get behind us,” Alford said Thursday before the Bruins face No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. “The guys in the locker room have had nothing to with any of it. So that’s why I’m very pleased with where we’re at. … This young team has had to deal with a lot, but we’re 7-2, playing well.”

Ball, and his younger brother LaMelo, a former UCLA commit for the 2019 recruiting class, have already signed professional contracts to play overseas in Lithuania, ruling them both ineligible to play college games.

Ball’s father LaVar cited the long, indefinite suspension as a reason he pulled his middle son out of UCLA suddenly last week. It’s also been difficult for the remaining Bruins, who have been stuck in an uncertain situation waiting to hear whether their teammates will be available.

“It definitely changed a lot of our team, our depth is pretty much gone, especially for the bigs, there’s only three or four of us,” forward GG Goloman said. “So it puts a little more pressure on us, but it’s just adversity, so we’ve just got to push through that.”

UCLA’s depth was cut from 11 to eight after the suspensions. Guard Aaron Holiday leads the Pac-12 in minutes per game with 36.2 and played every minute of the second half and overtime in UCLA’s loss to Michigan last weekend. Alford is so desperate for depth that he will even occasionally turn to walk-ons Ikenna Okwarabizie and Alec Wulff in the final minutes of the first half. Wulff, a senior, played the final 87 seconds of the first half against Michigan with the Bruins up by five to give freshman Jaylen Hands a brief break before halftime.

Alford said he saw Holiday and center Thomas Welsh starting to wear down at the end of the game against the Wolverines as the Bruins squandered a 15-point lead with 14:48 to go. Welsh had 22 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes while Holiday had a career-high 27 points and seven assists in 43 minutes, but also committed seven turnovers.

“That’s something I’ve got to be able to do,” Alford said of getting rests for Holiday and Welsh. “Part of that is trusting the young guys and I think now we’ve had that one road game where I think there’s going to be more trust in that these young guys are going to get a little bit more familiar with what it’s like to play on the road.”

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