I considered writing this post-game before the game even started. It would have been so easy, too, but alas, I’m dumb and decided to wait. To be fair, the UCLA Bruins came out and had a competitive first half with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The problem, as always, is that basketball is a game of two halves, and in the second half Ohio State made adjustments, cleaned up their problems (7 turnovers in the first half compared to 4 in the second, to go with an increase in shooting percentage from 36.1% to 48.4%), and played better defense, which eventually led to the pulling away for good, winning the game 80-66.
There, that should do with the basic analysis.
Because here’s where we stand: there is only one non-conference game before conference play starts, and UCLA is now 1-4 against potential at-large bid teams. The resume is a disaster, the team sat at 60th in KenPom rankings heading into this game and the Pac-12 is such a trainwreck that the Bruins will almost have to run the table to even be considered for an at-large bid. All of this assumes UCLA beats a bad Liberty team next week. Should they lose that game, the Bruins would absolutely need to win the conference’s automatic bid to get in the NCAA Tournament. Honestly, I don’t even know if I can say they’re the best college basketball team in Southern California; UC Irvine, at least, has a good resume win on the road at Texas A&M.
I shouldn’t have to state this next part, but maybe we all need a reminder: this is UCLA. This is the program of John Wooden, of 11 national championships, 18 Final Fours, and 31 conference championships. This is the program of Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, Reggie Miller, Russell Westbrook, Jamaal Wilkes, Kevin Love and Ed O’Bannon and, honestly, the list goes on and on. This program should never be in the position they are right now and it starts at the top.
If it isn’t clear by now, this should be the end of Steve Alford as the head coach at UCLA. Yes, he should not have been hired in the first place, but we’re talking about the present right now, and the time is long past to make a change. You can quibble about when the change is made; while I am firmly in the “Make the change now” camp, I can at least understand the idea behind waiting for the season to end, but the point is that the end has to come and the backchanneling required to hire a top-tier head coach needs to begin now, regardless of when Alford is fired. We know UCLA knows how to do this, since they essentially went through this same process with football last year. Anyone paying attention could tell UCLA and Chip Kelly had mutual interest since before the 2017 season began and, when Florida made the move to hire Kelly, UCLA knew it had to act, which prompted the firing of Jim Mora.
For people fearing that an interim coach could take this team and make a run that would necessitate removing the interim tag, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. For one, this team has already blown enough chances to make an at-large bid as remote as possible and the rest of the Pac-12 has helped by being so bad in general that conference members aren’t going to get much credit for how they perform in-conference. On another level, the early Pac-12 schedule doesn’t give a new interim coach enough time to gel before playing the decent teams. After opening with the Bay Area schools at home, the Bruins travel to Oregon, then play a Southern Cal team with a coach also on the hot seat before hosting Arizona State, the best team in the conference.
But no matter how you slice it, the Steve Alford Farewell Tour has officially begun. The only question is how long it is allowed to last.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Jaylen Hands led the team with 9 assists. C.J. Jackson led the Buckeyes with 22 points.
- Player of the Game: Jaylen Hands - Honestly, Hands had the best game among the Bruins, and it wasn’t all that impressive. 13 points on 5-10 shooting, including 2-4 from deep (on a night when the Bruins shot 4-18 in total from deep) is a fine performance from him, and the 9 assists represent 64% of UCLA’s total assists (of note: Jalen Hill was the only other Bruin to have more than 1 assist, and he only had 2). He even tied for second on the team with 5 rebounds. The four turnovers weren’t great, but, in general, Hands played the most like someone trying to win and his 15.6 game score (the only Bruin in double digits) bares that out.
- Area of Improvement: Coaching - As in, they should hire a new one and get rid of the one they have. But consider that Moses Brown has slowly become a non-factor over the course of this non-conference slate; he only had 9 points and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes and had an abysmal 6.6% usage rating, sandwiching him between Jules Bernard and Jalen Hill. Honestly, I have no idea why any big man would consider playing for Steve Alford because they just end up forgotten for most of the season.
- #TarmacWatch has begun - God bless Lane Kiffin for helping bring the concept of Tarmacing a coach into the world. The current 3-game losing streak would seem to offer the best opportunity to fire Alford in-season and, with a week to go before the next game, plenty of time to install an interim HC.
UCLA next plays on December 29th with a home game against Liberty. Tip-off is currently scheduled for 3:00 pm PT.