After being battered by Cal on Thursday evening, the Bruins traveled to Stanford yesterday looking for their third road win of the season and hoping for a late season surge that would keep them from finishing the season with a losing record in the Pac-12. Stanford, on the other hand, was coming off one of its best performances of the season--an 84-64 demolition of the Trojans. With Steve Lavin behind the microphone and Steve Alford on the Bruins' bench, what could possibly go wrong?
As expected, pretty much everything. Stanford beat UCLA 79-70, handing the Bruins their tenth conference loss. Steve Alford's Bruins finish the Pac-12 campaign with a 2-7 road record for the second straight season.
Aside from the Bruins' terrific free throw line defense that held Stanford to 48% from the charity stripe, the Bruins couldn't slow down Stanford's offense. The Cardinal shot a sizzling 61.2% from the field, which is particularly noteworthy since Stanford entered the game with the Pac-12's worst scoring offense and the second worst field goal percentage. Fortunately Lavin refrained from declaring that Stanford had played at a magical level.
Among the sobering facts was this: UCLA (15-14, 6-10 Pac-12) is now alone in 10th place in the conference. For just the fourth time since 1948-49, when John Wooden became UCLA's coach, UCLA will finish with a losing Pac-12 record.
What Zach Helfand doesn't mention is that all four of those occurrences have been in the last 13 years. [Note: Dan Guerrero has been UCLA's AD for 13+ years.]
By the time UCLA's locker room doors swung open late Saturday afternoon, the Stanford band had finished its postgame set. The fans had filed out. Workers were using leaf blowers to clean up hot dog wrappers and ticket stubs.
And then, the finger pointing began. It started with designated team leader Bryce Alford:
"As a team, we're kind of a lost cause right now. We're trying to stay together, and that's the hardest part."
At least he used the phrase "as a team," although as far as motivational messages from a "team leader" are concerned, "we're kind of a lost cause" ranks alongside "Let's face it, we suck" and "Why bother? We're going to lose" in terms of its effect on team morale. If only he'd left it at that. Unfortunately, Bryce kept talking:
The losing, Alford said, "is hard, it's very, very hard. Especially knowing that I'm supposed to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of this team. Just some of the guys aren't fully there, fully following what we've got to do."
Way to go, designated team leader! Make sure everyone knows that you and your father aren't to blame because, after all, that's what a team leader does. So much for the notion of winning as a team and losing as a team.
The buck passing didn't stop there. Steve Alford put the blame for Stanford's Michael Humphrey's big night on UCLA's bigs:
"He was a beast. He did a great job, our bigs couldn't keep him in front," Bruins coach Steve Alford said. "He got around our bigs a lot, and then he faced up and our bigs were too far off. We told them "17-foot range," and from 17 feet in he hurt us.
In other words, aside from telling his defenders "17-foot range," there was nothing Steve Alford could have done tactically to slow down Humphrey.
"At the end of the day it's not about individuals, how well you're doing specifically or how well you're shooting the ball or anything like that. Because you can not be shooting the ball well and just keep getting shots up and just hurt the team that way and make everything that much worse."
But that's on Steve Alford since he determines playing time. You can't "just keep getting shots up and just hurt the team that way" if you're on the bench.
Jack Wang summarizes the fallout from UCLA's most recent loss:
Less than two weeks ago, Steve Alford publicly held on to hope. He talked about UCLA's ability to make a late run, to bolster a resume that had become thinner and thinner since the turn of the new year.
Now, finally, the Bruins seem to have run out of time...
UCLA's path to an NCAA Tournament berth will almost certainly require them to win the Pac-12 Tournament. Judging from the type of basketball these Bruins (15-14, 6-10) have played as of late, however, and that seems like a Sisyphean task.
Goodbye NCAA Tournament, hello NIT! The downward spiral of Steve Alford's basketball program continues.
My favorite part of the UCLA basketball season will be when it ends— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) February 27, 2016