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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: Embarrassment on the National Stage

An embarrassing first half and the worst home offense of Alford era

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NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at UCLA
Steve Alford and UCLA fans wanted to look away yesterday.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While some are focusing on the turnovers or the short bench in the 77-63 loss to Cincinnati, the reality is the word of the day is “embarrassing.” Let’s first see what Ben Bolch of the LA Times wrote about the portion that decided the game:

The final 6:59 of the first half constituted a nationally televised embarrassment for UCLA, which failed to make a field goal over that stretch while being outscored 18-2. Bruins coach Steve Alford suggested that the offensive hiccups were largely a result of a players still feeling each other out.

This is not hyperbole. This was the worst home offense of the Steve Alford era (emphasis mine):

UC [Bearcats] finally shot off an 18-0 run in the final minutes of the half, coming from 21-18 down to a 36-21 lead. The defense keyed that, with a 9-1 edge in steals, 19-8 in points off of turnovers. UC also held UCLA to 38 percent shooting in the first half.

The 23 first-half points were UCLA's fewest at home since January 16, 2010, when they scored 21 against Southern Cal (lost 67-46).

To be fair, Steve Alford’s product on the court was not the only embarrassing thing. The tickets, yes, the tickets, were yet another red-faced moment:

LiAngelo Ball may have left the UCLA basketball program earlier this month, but he's apparently still one of the faces of the Bruins program.

The ticket stub for UCLA's home game against No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday featured Ball, the younger brother of one-and-done UCLA star Lonzo Ball -- the ultimate "whoops" moment for UCLA.

Of course, the Bruins were bad but give credit to Cincinnati, which completely took Thomas Welsh out of the game:

Starting with a turnover by GG Goloman with 8:53 to go in the first that led to a game-tying layup from Keith Williams, the Bruins turned the ball over on four straight possessions. They had eight turnovers in the final nine minutes of the first half.

Senior center Thomas Welsh didn’t get a field goal attempt until there were less than three minutes remaining in the first half. Even then, the 7-footer’s 3-point attempt was blocked.

It was an ugly game for Thomas coming off his career high of 22 to shooting an air ball and having a three pointer blocked. After the game, Steve Alford said:

They doubled him in the first half but not as much in the second half, but they did double him in the first half. I think he started rushing things and rushing his shot. Whenever you see Tom shoot an air ball you know he’s rushing things. I haven’t told him yet but its respect to him that a team like Cincinnati is doubling you because they don’t always double the post, so that’s an attribute to you and how much they respect you as a player. He will learn. Those are the things that Tom does, he learns and bounces back from these experiences. I thought it got a little bit rushed with his shooting. We also didn’t get him the ball early enough to get him going. It was probably 14-15 minutes before he got a shot. That’s too long for our offense for him not to get a shot.

So, what does this all mean? The only question in the roundup today is “How bad was the 77-63 loss in UCLA history under Alford?” The Orange County Register’s Mark Whicker points out UCLA has looked worse under Alford and bounced back:

Several UCLA teams have salvaged presentable seasons out of worse December muck than this. Three years ago, Kentucky’s thoroughbred yearlings led UCLA 24-0 and won 83-44, the type of calamity that might have prompted postgame disguise. That UCLA team also got spanked by Gonzaga and North Carolina, started 0-2 in conference and had a five-game losing streak on Jan. 14.

Only the fans panicked. UCLA still squeezed its way into the final 16. . . .

Power-conference teams receive forgiveness more often than Steve Howe and Robert Downey did. Basically, they have to disintegrate to avoid a tournament invitation. The Pac-12 appears customarily mediocre, unless Arizona State (9-0) really is top-10 material.

I will add that the Pac-12 is seemingly down. With predicted conference favorites Southern Cal and Arizona having the specter of the FBI hanging over their program and having a number of head scratching losses, this is not the powerful Pac-12 of last year. UCLA can pull out an NCAA Tourney bid but time is running out to help in the non-conference:

The Bruins (7-3) desperately needed a nationally televised victory over a ranked team to boost their nonconference resume that doesn’t yet include a victory over a team with a winning record. UCLA’s best win, by RPI, is over Cal State Bakersfield, who ranks 63rd. The Bruins were just 87th entering the game.

If we don’t beat Kentucky at a neutral site, then UCLA best non-conference win will be over Cal State Bakersfield?!? Steve Alford thinks it can be fixed:

Really proud of our effort. That’s a really good basketball team with grown men. We have some young guys that will really grow from this. We just had a really tough first half handling the basketball, kind of like the second half against Michigan. If you take away the second half at Michigan and the first half here against Cincinnati, in terms of turnovers, it puts us in a different position. You get the same amount of offensive rebounds and same amount of total rebounds against this Cincinnati team, I’m ecstatic about that. Shot attempts were about the same, you make 11 3-pointers against this team, that doesn’t happen very often. I just thought the difference was turnovers. That beat us by 12 points on turnovers, but it felt like more. They beat us by 14 overall and 12 of those were off of turnovers. So the whole difference in that game was pass-catch, ball movement. Our offense has to catch up but defensively we are really growing and maturing. I told the team in the locker room that we are starting to trust each other defensively and that’s good. Our offense has got to catch up with that same kind of trust.”

I wrote earlier that this set of four games would define us and I argued that we were more likely to go 0-4 then 4-0. So far, we have choked in a game we should have won and had an embarrassing loss at home. UCLA cannot afford to look past a decent South Dakota team which will be UCLA’s best chance to beat a team with a winning record. While things could get much better with a win over Kentucky, Alford has managed to put together a couple very nice wins over the Wildcats, especially last season. I think it’s more likely that South Dakota will be the game to win over a team with a winning record.

If they don’t, that will be more than embarrassing. It will be time to stop talking about Lonzo Ball and Sweet 16s and it will be time to remember the 2015-16 disaster season and other embarrassments like an 8-point half against Kentucky. And, it will be time to make this Alford’s last season.

I don’t think that will happen, but I do think UCLA fans are not being “unreasonable” to be embarrassed and start demanding Alford’s departure from UCLA.