Saturday, March 11, 2017

UCLA Basketball Team Crashes Back To Earth

The  UCLA men's basketball team did it again. Building up hopes sky-high, giddy fans had visions of the Final Four dancing in their heads. But, once again, the Bruins won't deliver.

UCLA in the Final Four? Not happening.

The way they've looked in the PAC 12 tournament, they'll be lucky to make it to the Sweet 16. Suddenly they don't look like the team that finished the season in the Top Five, steamrolling the opposition, excelling on both offense and defense. They even beat tough Arizona in Tuscon, something no visitor had done in years.

But that was during the season. In the PAC 12 tournament, the Bruins have come crashing back to earth. They opened the tournament Thursday barely escaping the USC game with a two-point win, a game the Bruins should have lost. With lazy defense and spotty offense, they kept the door open for the Trojans, who consistently stumbled at the entrance and never made it through that door. What really killed the Trojans was their own blunders, not UCLA's skills.

The Bruins continued that downward spiral on Friday, getting pushed around by Arizona. The Bruins were ice-cold from the three-point line and shockingly soft in the middle. The Wildcats owned the paint, often embarrassing the Bruins with easy layups and dunks, winning 86-75. That score is misleading. It wasn't that close. The UCLA offense crumbled and the team doesn't play defense well enough to compensate for a massive offensive breakdown.

So which is the real Bruins, the heavyweight that was throwing knockout punches at the end of the season or the lightweight that wobbled through the PAC 12 tournament? It's hard to predict how the Bruins will do in the NCAA tournament. A favorable draw and some upsets could pave the way for them to make it to the Elite 8. That's possible but not likely. The real Bruins are probably the unit that under-performed in the tournament in that hostile, unfamiliar Las Vegas environment

Once again the primary problem  is coaching--that demon Steve Alford again. Particularly in the Arizona game, Alford was blown away by the Wildcats' head coach Sean Miller. The Bruins weren't well prepared for either SC or Arizona--the coach's fault, of course. Though the Bruins improved on defense late in the season, they still don't play it with the kind of skill and ferocity needed to win championships..

Given how they raised fan hopes, there is going to be some real fan grumbling if UCLA doesn't reach at least the Elite 8. Some fans will be ready to give Alford the boot. He may already be looking for another job. According to rumors, Indiana coach Tom Crean may be headed to Missouri and Alford, a former Hoosier star, may be considering returning to his alma mater, replacing Crean,

So far it's just grapevine chatter. Getting rid of Alford would be complicated and costly, but if the Bruins have a quick, ugly exist from the NCAA tournament, fans may be happy to show him the door, no matter how expensive and will be..