UCLA Basketball Coach Steve Alford was given a warning about what could happen if he left his starters on the court too long. About five minutes into the game, Bruin freshman TJ Leaf twisted his ankle when he landed on the foot of a Washington player rather than on the floor.
The timing of Leaf’s injury isn’t good in the big picture. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go in time for the Pac-12 Tournament next weekend.
But the fact that Alford didn’t start pulling his starters until there were less than three minutes to go at this point of the season is nothing short of coaching malpractice.
What would have happen if Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh or even Aaron Holiday had gotten hurt while UCLA had a 35-point lead? What if a frustrated Washington player decided to follow in the footsteps of Duke’s Grayson Allen and trip a Bruin player and that player was injured significantly enough to miss the rest of the season?
“Well, it didn’t happen,” some of you will inevitably argue. And, that’s true, but did Steve Alford know that when UCLA’s lead exceeded 30 points? No.
Let’s just say that Alford did decide to pull his starters when UCLA’s lead got to 30 points with twelve minutes to go and Washington made a comeback. Well, all he would have had to do is put a few of his well-rested starters back on the floor to ensure the victory and sit them back down again once the outcome was certain.
Would having beaten Washington by 20 points because Alford emptied his bench done anything to change the minds of the NCAA Selection Committee regarding what UCLA’s seed should be? Highly doubtful.
By leaving his starters on the floor until there were less than three minutes to go unnecessarily risked their health in a blowout game where the outcome was certain.
Tonight was a test for Steve Alford and he failed it.
Maybe that’s why he’s never made it past the Sweet 16.