For only the second time in the Alford era, I missed a regular season game. And, wouldn’t you know it? It is the game that fired Steve Alford. While the focus is rightly on the next coach and, to a lesser extent, this season, I want to take a quick look back at the five best and worst moments/games/events of the Alford era.
5th Best — Isaac Hamilton’s 36 over Southern Cal
Isaac transferred last minute to UCLA to be close to his ailing grandmother. She died right before a Pac-12 Tournament game against Southern Cal. Isaac went out and singlehandedly destroyed SUC with a 36-point effort in a 96-70 blowout win on March 12. It was a true feel good moment for three-year starter Isaac Hamilton, who was only averaging 10 points per game at the time.
5th Worst — Tony Parker as a Four
The first time Steve Alford should have been fired was in the 2015-16 season and one of the biggest reasons was the surreal lineup Steve Alford used. Instead of using the talented Jonah Bolden, Alford used Tony Parker as a four or power forward. The year before Tony was a good college low post. As a four though, Parker was lost, especially on defense. Parker could muscle with the big guys but to try to chase around a stretch four, forget about it. Even worse, Alford would play his 3-2 or 1-2-2 zone with Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh as wings down low. Parker was the second slowest regular in the Alford era with Welsh the slowest. It was coaching malpractice.
4th Best — Lonzo Ball-led Offense
Lonzo Ball was the best UCLA player this century. I realize others have gone on to bigger pro careers but Ball not only led Alford’s only team to be ranked in the top 10, he changed the culture. UCLA played unselfishly while playing beautiful offensive basketball. It was a joy to watch and UCLA had the Kenpom’s second-ranked offensive team in the nation.
4th Worst — The China Incident
In fairness to Steve Alford, I am not sure how much he was to blame here. That said it did happen on his watch. Regardless it was a shameful incident in UCLA’s history to have three players representing UCLA, the Pac-12, and the US arrested for shoplifting in a foreign country.
3rd Best — Thomas Welsh
While the China Three represented one of the worst incidents in UCLA basketball history, Thomas Welsh was undoubtably one of the best. Welsh was a class act in every way, shape and form. After every practice he shook the coaches’ hands and asked what he needed to improve on. He asked to be benched so that senior Tony Parker could start in his final college games. He was not the best player in UCLA history, or even close, but he has to be considered one of the best modern representatives of UCLA basketball.
3rd Worst — Bryce Alford’s Minutes, Especially as a Point Guard
Bryce Alford was a good shooter. He was a mediocre point guard. And, he was arguably the worst defender in UCLA history. The point guard part was one of the most frustrating parts of the Alford era. Steve Alford’s first season he made Bryce the backup point guard over now-NBA point guard Zach Lavine. We lost to Florida in the Sweet 16 game that year when Bryce stayed in the game too long with point guard Kyle Anderson on the bench. The next season, UCLA literally did not have a backup point guard. Steve Alford failed to recruit a point guard making his son literally UCLA’s only option at point guard. His third season, UCLA had another option (Aaron Holiday) but Steve gave up on that option quickly and Bryce was point guard again on a team that finished with a losing record. In his senor year, Bryce was finally a shooting guard which resulted in the highest shooting percentage for Bryce and the best offense of the Alford era. That Bryce played so many minutes was nepotism. That Bryce played so much point guard was offensive.
2nd Best — The Wins over Kentucky
The best moment of the Lonzo Ball season at UCLA was at Rupp Arena. Kentucky was top-ranked and UCLA came in and ran them out of their own building. The great defense and athletes of Kentucky were no match for Lonzo and TJ Leaf, although Kentucky would get its vengeance in the NCAA Tournament. That was not the only great win over Kentucky. A year after arguably the most embarrassing loss in UCLA history (see below), UCLA played a then-ranked number one Kentucky at Pauley. UCLA fans universally were dreading the game, yet UCLA, led by Thomas Welsh, upset Kentucky.
2nd Worst — The Ugly Losses
I already did a post on this. The scary thing is there were many losses that weren’t just losses but embarrassing national faceplants. There was the shutout game against Kentucky, the worst loss of the Alford era at HOME to Liberty, etc. Alford did not just underachieve. He had some of the ugliest losses in program history.
Best — Kyle Anderson-led Bruins beat Arizona to win the Pac-12 Tournament Championship
Steve Alford did improve some of the Ben Howland leftovers, with Norman Powell coming to mind. His best season was his first when he let a 6’9” kid nicknamed “slo-mo” run point. It was the only season that UCLA won any sort of championship. Led by Slo-Mo Kyle Anderson, UCLA beat Arizona in the hard-fought 2013 Pac-12 Tournament Championship game to win the Pac-12 Tournament. Under Alford, UCLA never again came close to any sort of title.
Worst — The Hiring of Steve Alford
Why? The buzz was around Brad Stevens and some other names. Yet, there was this hiring of Steve Alford, out of nowhere without any rumors that he was even being considered. But that was not the only problem.
At his press conference, it became obvious that Dan Guerrero and staff had not even done basic research on Steve Alford. They were surprised by questions about the Pierre Pierce sexual assault while Alford coached at Iowa. The whole thing was surreal as Steve talked about Bobby Knight not John Wooden as if no one had told him about UCLA’s history. The hiring of Alford was a completely botched process and the results show how big of a mistake it was.