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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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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