Saturday, January 28, 2017

UCLA's Coach Steve Alford: Not Good Enough

The honeymoon is over for UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford.

To fuming Bruin fans he's back to being a bum. Here's one indication. In the backyards of at least a half dozen student homes near the school's Westwood campus, Alford was recently hung in effigy. Some angry guys even use Alford's dangling figure as a target for darts.

What happened? Reality set in. The real Steve Alford surfaced again, and it's not a pretty sight.

On the ropes last season, Alford put all that negativity behind him. He brought in some flashy freshmen-- Lonzo Ball and T J Leaf--fashioned an undefeated preseason, including a heralded victory over top-ranked Kentucky, shot into the Top Five, and even flirted with the No.1 spot. Expectations exploded through the roof. UCLA men's basketball was a hot ticket again.

But after the PAC 12 season began,  the Bruins were slowly exposed. That race-horse, high-scoring offense, built on precision jump-shooting and  modest defense, didn't really work in conference games. The preseason schedule was overloaded with patsies that were easily steamrolled by that power offense. Also, it turned out that Kentucky was good but not No.1 caliber, so that signature victory was tarnished somewhat.
When the Bruins were riding high during preseason, fans were lulled into thinking Alford's offense-heavy plan would keep the team in the Top Five.

Cracks in the UCLA foundation started to show when the Bruins lost to Oregon in Eugene, 89-87. The last- second loss wasn't the problem. What was red flag No.1 was that the Ducks scored 89 points. Then came the home loss to Arizona, 96-85, which spotlighted the Bruins' lousy defense. They couldn't stop dribble penetration to curtail the Wildcats' powerhouse inside game and the Bruins' perimeter defense was terrible.

So they give up 89 points to Oregon,  96 to Arizona , as well as 92 to that win. That's rotten defense. Good teams don't give up that many points. Chalk that up to bad coaching.

The USC road loss was the real killer. UCLA rolled to a 20-10 lead then collapsed when SC switched to a zone. The Bruins' offense was stuck in the mud and their defense was molasses-slow. Alford couldn't make helpful adjustments, so the Bruins dropped another, 84-76, once more surrendering way too many points.

In that loss the Bruins seemed listless and befuddled. Though playing their hated rival, they didn't bother to show up. Again, that's bad coaching. That loss is on Alford.  How could he not have them ready to play a crucial conference game against their worst enemy? How could they play without any spirit against SC?

Another problem. According to two sources, there's turmoil in the Bruins' locker room that has been smoldering since the Oregon loss. Apparently it got worse after the Arizona fiasco and was a significant factor in the SC debacle. The sources haven't been able to pinpoint the players involved since there's an effort to keep a lid on the conflict. Apparently, though, playing time is one of the issues. The sources stressed that the festering bad feelings are interfering with teamwork.

Under Alford, the Bruins are a one-dimensional, offense-heavy team that plays so-so defense  They win by overwhelming teams with their offense. That plan often works with B and C-level teams but rarely with A teams.

For a while, the Bruins did look like an A team, bringing back memories of the dominance of the Wooden era. But this not an elite team. The players aren't good enough. The coach certainly isn't good enough.

This is, at best, a Sweet 16 team. But an Elite 8 or a Final Four Team? No way. Not the way they play defense. Definitely not with Alford as coach, with his indifference to defense and inability to make sound adjustments during games.

UCLA fans should dial down their expectations. With Alford at the helm there's nothing but heartbreak ahead.