This is a critical time for UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford. Right now the team is in a hole, 13-7 overall, 4-4 in the PAC 12 and stuck in a three-game losing streak. How the team does in the next few weeks will determine if he's back next year.
But tonight's game doesn't count. It's a cinch.
UCLA plays Cal in Westwood. Playing the bungling Bears is like playing a so-so junior college team. It's even easier playing them at home. The Bruins should have this one wrapped up by halftime without hardly breaking a sweat.
After that, though, it gets tough--real tough. The Bruins play the top four teams in the PAC 12, beginning with Stanford at home on Sunday. That might be the easiest of the four games following the Cal breather. After Stanford the Bruins tackle arguably the best team in the conference, USC, Fortunately for UCLA that one is in Westwood. Then the Bruins face the nightmare road trip of the season for every PAC 12 team, playing two in Arizona.
If the Bruins continue to play the way they've been playing during this three-game losing streak.
they will drop all four of those crucial games. That would mean losing seven out of eight. By then the Alford haters would be breathing fire and hanging him in effigy. Demoralized, the team would probably stumble through the rest of the season, which begins in mid February with the rugged Oregon teams in Westwood. Then the Bruins would most likely miss the NCAA tournament and lay an egg in the NIT, if they are invited. Big-money donors would be ready to pay Alford to go away.
For Alford haters that's a dream scenario. Will it happen? Let's say it has a 50-50 chance. This young team is woefully under-developed. The players aren't listening to Alford. He's preaching teamwork to a bunch that's addicted to one-on-one play. But you can't win in the major-college ranks with playground-style ball. Where these young Bruins are most deficient is on defense. That debacle in Oregon last weekend may have been their worst defensive effort of the season, from bad board work, to clumsy rotations to sloppy ball-handling. A well-coached team would have won that one by 15 instead of losing 94-91.
I know this is not what Alford haters want to hear but I wouldn't give up on him just yet. He's not Coach K but he's not bottom-of-the-barrel either. He has skills. They are just not working on this current crew. He's well aware that he's backed up against the wall. To keep his job he has to whip these wayward kids into shape, get them to play smart and morph into a quality, disciplined unit.
In other words, he has to do some first-rate coaching. Will he do it and survive? My guess? Can't say.
This one is too close to call.