‘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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What’s next for UCLA men’s basketball under Steve Alford?

After guiding UCLA to one of its worst seasons in recent memory, what questions are facing Steve Alford and the Bruins? (Stephen Carr/Staff)

After guiding UCLA to one of its worst seasons in recent memory, what questions are facing Steve Alford and the Bruins? (Stephen Carr/Staff)

Was it a bad season? Yes. Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. Finishing with an overall record of 15-17 would qualify as bad for most major programs, let alone the one that holds more national titles than anyone else.

There shouldn’t be much dispute about this, but Steve Alford emphasized this week that the Bruins shouldn’t be dinged for a “bad season” — only for a bad two-and-a-half months. But given that the whole season only lasts about four months, this seems like a case of splitting hairs.

Most coaches should be granted leeway for the occasional bad season. It’s the timing of this season — as as well as the way it unfolded — that should cause concern about the viability of the Alford era. Yes, he reached the Sweet 16 twice, but had the benefit of inheriting a number of future NBA players. This season featured a roster almost entirely of his own design. Despite that, this team saved its worst basketball for last, losing its last five games by an average of nearly 12 points.

Can a top recruiting class turn things around? Perhaps. The nature of modern college basketball helps facilitate quick turnarounds, with one-and-done players making the type of impact that isn’t feasible in other sports. As the season spiraled down, Alford made increasingly frequent references to his top-five group of signees. He did so with good reason: Lonzo Ball is as well regarded as any point guard prospect in recent memory, and T.J. Leaf should make the frontcourt much more offensively skilled.

But Ben Howland also brought in a loaded recruiting class before his final season, landing Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams in what was a No. 2-ranked haul. Continue reading

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Pac-12 will ban incoming transfers with history of misconduct

The Pac-12 has instituted a new rule that will prevent transfers by athletes with a history of misconduct, the conference announced today.

The new rule requires transfer applicants to self-disclose whether or not they are allowed to re-enroll at their prior schools. If not, they would not be eligible to receive athletic aid or participate in athletic activities.

The policy will apply to issues related to “assault, harassment, academic fraud, and other violations of campus behavior conduct policies,” the conference said — not to academic ineligibility that does not stem from misconduct.

“This is an important step to strengthen our student-athlete transfer admission processes and to address the safety of our students,” UCLA chancellor Gene Block said.

Such a rule may have prevented, for example, the Oregon men’s basketball team from accepting Brandon Austin in 2014. The 6-foot-6 wing had been suspended by Providence College, where he had been a subject of a rape investigation. Austin faced sexual assault allegations again in Eugene, along with teammates Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis; all three were eventually expelled.

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UCLA coach Steve Alford: ‘I’ve just done a really poor job’

UCLA’s season fizzled out on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, with the Bruins losing a third straight game to USC for the first time since 1942.

Some more milestone from the 95-71 loss in the Pac-12 Tournament, one in which Steve Alford’s team never looked competitive …

» USC’s point total was its highest-ever in the rivalry, passing the 94 points it scored in an eight-point loss to UCLA in 1979.
» The 24-point margin of victory was USC’s largest since a 28-point win in 1945.
» The Trojans’ three wins against the Bruins this year came by a combined 57 points. They had not won two rivalry games by double digits since 1938.
» USC’s average halftime lead in those three games was 16.

“It’s been a really difficult two-and-a-half months,” Alford said afterward. “And it falls on me. This is where the buck stops and starts. I’ve just done a really poor job of getting to these guys over the last two-and-a-half months.”

Asked how he would defend himself to fans who are calling for his job, he said: “I’m not defending myself. I didn’t get into this business to defend myself. If I’m a fan, I’m upset too. It’s not a defense. If I’m a fan, I’m upset; I’m a coach, I’m upset. …

“Bad year’s probably an overstatement. It was a bad two-and-a-half months, bad league play. And that’s what it was. I think I’ve got the players’ attention. We’ve got a tremendous recruiting class coming in that we’re excited about. … So it’s back to work. It’s getting us back to the level of excellence that is required.”

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Don MacLean: Too early for UCLA basketball to fire Steve Alford

Some fans have called for UCLA to fire head coach Steve Alford (center) in the wake of the Bruins' disappointing 2015-16 season, but Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean says it's too early for that conversation. (David Crane/Staff)

Some fans have called for UCLA to fire third-year head coach Steve Alford (center) due to the Bruins’ disappointing 2015-16 season, but Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean says it’s too early for that conversation. (David Crane/Staff)

The UCLA men’s basketball team heads into the Pac-12 Tournament mired in one of the most disappointing season in program history, with its 15-16 record making even an NIT invitation very questionable. Perhaps further dimming the Bruins’ chances at a late-season run is their next opponent.

Steve Alford’s 10th-seeded squad will tip off at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 6 p.m. tomorrow against USC — a team that has comfortably won the last two games in the crosstown rivalry. Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean answered some questions about the Bruins, including what he thinks of Alford’s job security.

Q: What are your impressions of UCLA’s first-round matchup against USC, especially given the results of their past two meetings?

A: “Overall, you wonder where UCLA’s head is at. They haven’t looked good coming down the home stretch here. They’re a No. 10 seed. They’re not going to get into the NCAA Tournament. But what I’m looking for is for them to kind of hit the reset button, and see if they want to try and make a run in this Pac-12 Tournament. So to that degree, I don’t think it really matters who their first-round opponent is. To me, it’s more about their spirit and their will, and if they want to finish out this season the right way. They have underachieved. I think they know that. They have the talent to be better than they are.”

Q: A couple of weeks ago, you said you wouldn’t be surprised if UCLA won the Pac-12 Tournament. Do you still think that? Continue reading

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