It’s not very often that the head coach of a college basketball program returns contract money to the university, but that is exactly what UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford did after a disappointing 15-17 season. In an open letter written by Alford dedicated to fans of the UCLA program, he announced his intentions by stating, “At the end of the day, year three was clearly not up to UCLA standards. My coaching staff and I fell short not only of our own expectations, but the expectations of athletic director Dan Guerrero, the Chancellor and you, our fans…As a coaching staff, we intend to earn that extension back.” Alford’s announcement was made shortly after multiple banners were seen flying through campus calling for Alford’s removal from the program.
It was not all bad for the a Bruins team that defeated then first ranked Kentucky on December 3rd, and earned an impressive road victory at Gonzaga December 12th. Despite gaining momentum during the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Bruins were a disappointing 6-12 in Pac-12 play. Junior and Los Angeles native Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins in scoring on the year, contributing nearly 17 points per game. UCLA also received key contributions from Sophomore big man Thomas Welsh, and the son of head coach Steve Alford, Bryce Alford who will also be returning for his final go-around as a Bruin next season.
Conference play proved to be too daunting of a task for this years’ UCLA team, as the Bruins were only able to pick up one win against a ranked Pac-12 team. The lone victory came against then-seventh ranked Arizona 87-84 on January 7th. However, inconsistency was a major theme for UCLA this season, as bad losses against Washington State and Stanford combined with a much improved Pac-12 spelled doom for the year’s version of the UCLA Bruins.
Despite the lackluster regular season, the Bruins, like all Division I programs, had the chance to make a run in their conference tournament and steal and a bid to the NCAA tournament. This dream came to a crashing halt, as the Bruins received a thrashing at the hands of bitter crosstown rival USC 95-71 in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. With their final loss of the season, the Bruins finished a disappointing 0-3 against their hated rival for the first time since 1954.
Alford and his coaching staff originally received a contract extension through the 2020-2021 season after taking the school to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago for the first time since 2008. However, help should be on the way for the Bruins as five star recruits Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are both committed to UCLA as well as four of the top five scorers on the team have at least one year of eligibility left.
Despite this year’s struggles, the Bruins still remain one of the most appealing destinations for a potential recruit. Not only are the Bruins able to sell the beautiful city of Los Angeles, but they are also able to harp on their rich history which includes eleven national championships. While it is extremely refreshing to see a coach take direct responsibility for the lack of his team’s success, the Bruins should be back in the NCAA Tournament field in no time.
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Photo: SD Dirk/Flickr.