UCLA women’s basketball reaches first Sweet 16 since 1999

For the first time since 1999, the UCLA women’s basketball team is heading to the Sweet 16.

The third-seeded Bruins earned themselves a spot on Monday night, holding off a resilient South Florida team for a 72-67 win at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA never trailed, but saw a 16-point lead dwindle to as little as one.

They will take the court again on March 26 against No. 2-seeded Texas.

“This is a huge next step for our program,” said Cori Close, the Bruins’ fifth-year coach.

» Sweet 16 run marks best year of Cori Close’s UCLA tenure

USF senior Courtney Williams, the nation’s 10th-leading scorer, led the game with 29 points — but did so by taking 32 shots. She missed her first eight shots of the night, pestered by defense from UCLA’s Nirra Fields, as well as forward Monique Billings.

Sophomore point guard Jordin Canada kept UCLA ahead late, shaking off a 1-for-11 start to score 17 points in the final quarter. She sank six free throws in the final 25 seconds.

The Bruins are one of four Pac-12 teams to make the Sweet 16, joining Oregon State, Stanford and Washington.

“You really gain credibility when you go do it on the biggest stage, the NCAA Tournament,” Close said. “The Pac-12 has sort of put its money where its mouth is.”

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UCLA coach Steve Alford returns his extension after losing season

After a 15-17 record in his third season, UCLA head coach Steve Alford has "returned" the one-year extension he signed in  2014. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

After a 15-17 record in his third season, UCLA head coach Steve Alford has “returned” the one-year extension he signed in 2014. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

After one of the worst seasons in recent UCLA history, Steve Alford said in a letter to fans that he has decided to return the one-year contract extension he signed in 2014.

The news comes in the wake of a 15-17 finish by the Bruins, just the fourth losing season for the program since it hired John Wooden in 1948. A run that included a five-loss streak to end the year — including a third straight to USC — sparked palpable outrage for the UCLA faithful. Twice this week, a plane flew over campus, pulling banners that read “UCLA DESERVES BETTER! FIRE ALFORD!” and “MARCH MADNESS IS NOT FIRING ALFORD.”

In an email sent out on Sunday evening, Alford acknowledged that the result was “unacceptable,” but also recognized that the letter was unlikely to “change any opinions.”

“The fact remains that no matter how much time passes, the way we finished this past season will eat at me for a long, long time,” he wrote. “Our record speaks for itself and is simply unacceptable. There’s nothing that I can say or write that will change that fact. This happened under my watch, it begins and it ends with me. The buck stops here.

“Because of this, I let (athletic director) Dan Guerrero know that I wanted to return the one-year contract extension I received after the 2013-14 season. This request has since been processed.”

The nullification of the one-year extension, signed after Alford’s first Sweet 16 run with the Bruins in 2013-14, would mean that the coach is only attached to the program until April 2020. Perhaps more importantly, it would also adjust his buyout terms to what was stipulated in his original contract.

Under those terms, Alford’s buyout drops to $7.8 million on April 30, to $5.2 million on the same date in 2017, and to $2.6 million in 2018. If UCLA were to dismiss Alford, it would pay him in monthly installments through April 30, 2020. Those payments would be reduced if Alford were to gain other sources of income.

See the full letter below: Continue reading

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PHOTOS: UCLA women’s hoops coasts past Hawaii, 66-50

Senior Nirra Fields led the UCLA women’s basketball team with 16 points in a 66-50 win over Hawaii in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (John McCoy/Staff)

» UCLA got a boost off the bench from freshman Kennedy Burke to open the NCAA Tournament.
» The Bruins’ win over Hawaii meant an emotional end to Long Beach Poly alum Destiny King’s career.

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UCLA women’s hoops ready to open NCAA tourney vs. Hawaii

» Back in the NCAA Tournament, UCLA women’s basketball is looking to make it past the second round for the first time since 1999. First up is No. 14-seed Hawaii at 3:30 p.m.
» UCLA forward Kacy Swain has found success with the third-seeded Bruins despite dealing with Type 1 diabetes.

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‘Fire Alford’ banner flies over UCLA

UCLA just finished 15-17 in its third season under Steve Alford, giving the Bruins a losing record for just the fourth time since 1948.

That’s left plenty of fans railing against the 51-year-old coach. On Monday morning, a plane flew over campus dragging a banner that read: “UCLA DESERVES BETTER! FIRE ALFORD!”

This is not the first outcry that Alford has seen since joining the Bruins. Almost immediately after he was hired, he enraged many in and around the university by refusing to apologize for his past handling of Pierre Pierce’s sexual assault case at Iowa. A petition calling for his firing launched late this season has collected more than 1,500 signatures.

Although Alford made two Sweet 16 runs before missing the NCAA Tournament this year, he also did so with a number of NBA-bound players he did not recruit. His hopes of a turnaround rest largely on a top-five incoming recruiting class, which includes five-star prospects Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.

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