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.
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.”
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.”
Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins — who finished 10th in the league — with a second-team selection, while fellow junior guard Bryce Alford earned an honorable mention. Hamilton is the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer at 17.1 points per game and has hit double figures in 27 straight outings. The last UCLA player to hold a longer streak is former league MVP Kevin Love, who scored at least 10 points in all 39 games as a freshman in 2007-08.
The Bruins had produced five all-conference first-team picks in the last three years: Norman Powell, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Larry Drew II and Shabazz Muhammad. Lazeric Jones led UCLA with a second-team spot in 2011-12, the first season after Colorado and Utah joined what became the Pac-12.
The league has included 10 players in its first team since 1979-80, only departing from the tradition when it named three five-member teams in 2007-08.
Utah center Jakob Poeltl is the Pac-12 Player of the Year, while Oregon’s Dana Altman was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the third time in four years. He is the first to be named the conference’s top coach in consecutive seasons since Stanford’s Mike Montgomery 12 years ago. Oregon State guard Gary Payton II became the first-ever back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Colorado’s George King is the conference’s most improved player, while Utah’s Brandon Taylor was honored as the top scholar-athlete.
The Bruins finished the regular season with a 15-16 record and 6-12 in the Pac-12 — their worst conference mark since 2002-03, which was the final year of the Steve Lavin era. This loss also sets up a rematch in the Pac-12 Tournament against seventh-seeded USC.
No. 10-seed UCLA, which has already lost twice to the Trojans by 33 combined points, will tip off against its crosstown rival again on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.