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UCLA Basketball - How Steve Alford has Killed Optimism

No UCLA fan thinks UCLA has even a chance of competing against Kentucky Thursday. I can't remember this feeling ever before

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA is playing #1 Kentucky this Thursday and I have not met or heard a single UCLA fan that thinks we have any chance to win.  As a matter of fact, I have not met or heard any fan say that we have a chance at competing.

I never remember a time when there was not some UCLA fan who thought we had a chance at either one.

This is very troubling.  I can't remember this feeling ever being like this before.  I remember when Steve Lavin was coaching we were likely to get blown out multiple times a season but you knew that Lavin might have a "magical" game.  The optimists always had at least one foot in reality when they believed UCLA could win any game under Lavin.  For example against North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 2000.  Going into the game the odds did not look good:

When the Bruins lost to USC Wednesday night at the Sports Arena -- their second defeat in three games and fourth in 13 games this season -- Lavin expected to be blistered.

The fans (myself included) were calling for Lavin's head.  Yet this is Steve Lavin, we knew there was a chance:

Bailey, who had made only eight free throws all season, banked in two with 14.9 seconds left Saturday as UCLA beat No. 13 North Carolina 71-68.

"If they were going to foul anybody, they were going to foul me," the junior guard said. "Coach (Steve) Lavin just tells me don't shoot them short, shoot them long if you are going to shoot them, give them a chance to bounce off the backboard, bounce off the rim. I was listening to him and they went into the basket."

Lavin called bank on a free throw. Sigh.  Lavin couldn't coach but he could motivate and recruit.  The rule with the Lavin led Bruins was simple.  If you had a bad team you wanted to play UCLA because you would out coach Lavin and with a little "magic" pull off the upset.  But the opposite was true of a good team.  Lavin was never tight and neither were his teams.  Lavin was a master of BS and when you're a teenager and want to believe, some times that can work.  If you were a good team there was no upside to playing UCLA, a talented team that might on any given night play up to their ability.

I am not going to lie and said I thought we would win, but I thought we had a chance.  Now I think we have zero, zip, nada of a chance of winning.

For Thursday night, I almost wish we had Lavin back.  Sure we'd likely get blown out but hey maybe, just maybe, we would  have a chance.  For if nothing else we would have enough talent on the roster that there would always be a chance.

But here is the thing.  I would be happy if I even thought we had a chance to be in the game.  UCLA v. Kansas last week wasn't bad because we lost but it was bad because Kansas looked like they were playing the Washington Generals.  They did whatever they wanted on offense.  The game was over in the first two minutes and Kansas was winning by 26 at half time.

Kansas was ready for our 3-2 or 1-2-2 press and shredded it.  Coach Self had a game plan and Kansas executed it and destroyed UCLA.  I remember when the opposite was true.

I remember exactly five years ago against Kansas when I felt good about a loss over a top team  First off let me be clear, I am not advocating for a "moral victory."  I am just saying that it is ugly that even the most optimistic Bruin fan is dreading Thursday because they can't see anything but a beating.

But five years ago was a different feeling.  UCLA was 3-2 going to play at #4 Kansas.  We by all rights should be destroyed.  Yet Ben Howland had a brilliant game plan that almost worked.

For one time in his career Tyler Honeycutt played hard and listed to Howland.  Howland built his game plan around Honeycutt and Honeycutt responded with a career high 31 points AT Kansas.

Honeycutt was 11 for 15 from the field and 5 for 6 from 3-point range.

"He was clearly the best player out there tonight," Self said.

"Honeycutt really had a great game tonight, really let the game come to him," Howland said.

Howland is being modest.  He had a perfect game plan to exploit UCLA's biggest advantage in Tyler Honeycutt who, for once, ran Howland's offense.  Howland being the anti-Lavin had the opposite kind of free throw luck:

Tyler Honeycutt, capping a 31-point game, hit a 3-pointer with 5 seconds to go that tied the score between two of basketball's most storied programs at 76-76. Then Lee fouled Little as he got set to try to avoid overtime. After conferring at the scorer's table, officials said to put 0.7 seconds back on the clock and Little walked to the line as a roaring crowd of 16,300 implored him to keep the Jayhawks' home court winning streak alive.

"I think he just bumped me," said Little.

Ah. no. Even Self admitted it was a bad call and they would have lost the game at home or a neutral court.  No one gets a game winning free throw for a possible bump.  Howland, for that night, out coached Self, one of the best coaches in the nation.

With Howland, there was a always that chance of a game plan and a prepared team pulling off a win.

Does anyone think that Alford will have an answer for Kentucky's defense on Thursday?

And that is why fans are so down right now.  There is no way UCLA has a Lavin-underachieving miracle win or coaching-trick-Howland to keep the game close.  There is no chance.

Steve Alford is killing the UCLA fan's hopes.