Finally, mercifully, it’s all over.
Let’s get some cliches out of the way first. The UCLA Bruins just did not have enough left in the tank. The adversity was just too much to overcome. The Arizona State Sun Devils just wanted it more today. This is a bitter pill to swallow. The ball just didn’t bounce our way. It’s been a great ride. We acknowledge and understand our deficiencies in areas that include culture, discipline, schemes, personnel, and staff.
That was fun, now let’s poke this dead body with a stick a bit.
Let’s be fair and say that winning this game, nay, the entire conference tournament was always going to be tough. Not because UCLA lacked the talent to do so, mind you, but because they’ve been playing with a hand tied behind their back for the better part of six seasons. Anyone surprised by how this season has gone, or how game in particular went, has clearly been in a coma for the better part of a decade, because nothing that happened was shocking. And yes, I know that Steve Alford was not on the sideline for this game, and while that was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal performance, he’s still the guy who hired the coaches that were on the sideline.
Nothing from this specific game was out of the ordinary. The Bruins lack the ability to play defense with any sort of consistency, and it showed in this game, as the team had to rotate between man and zone defense in a desperate attempt to find something that would work. The offensive system, as it has been all season, was non-existent, with the Bruins spending the game standing around, hoping someone (usually Jaylen Hands) could do something to generate a good look. Even a furious comeback attempt with 14 minutes remaining wasn’t shocking - if anything, it was a microcosm of the season, as the Bruins gave fans one last, brief moment of hope before dashing it entirely. And the game itself was a microcosm of the past 6 years, because once you put yourself in a hole, it is very difficult to dig out of it.
If I have to focus on this game any longer, I should note that Hands and Kris Wilkes did, at the very least, try to win the game. That sounds like damning with faint praise, and on some level it is, but at the end of the day I can’t really blame them for taking poor shots and trying to do too much, because after a certain point it was clear that the rest of the team just wasn’t going to carry much of the weight. Moses Brown, as has been the case down the stretch of this season, was again a non-factor, once again showcasing his inability to do anything of note on the offensive end, and backups Cody Riley and Jalen Hill did not fare much better. Jules Bernard is still the same wild player he has been all season, but I can at least appreciate his effort in his first start of his career. Chris Smith....was on the court I guess? Alex Olesinski was the third-leading scorer for UCLA today, which tells you all you really need to know. And because I am trying to be as SEO-friendly as possible, I should note that UCLA lost the basketball game by the score of 83-72.
With the season finally over, the focus of the program will finally turn towards the future. The most immediate question, of course, is who does UCLA go after to fill their head coach position. Up until this point, the search committee has been able to operate in relative obscurity, but the distraction of actual basketball is gone, and now the magnifying glass is trained on their every action and conversation. Names like Tony Bennett, Chris Beard, Eric Musselman, Luke Walton, and others have been floated for months now, but rumors will now have to give way to concrete information, and considering the state of the program currently, UCLA cannot afford to miss on another hire.
And of course, the question will also turn to the futures of the players. Wilkes, Hands, and Brown will almost-certainly test the NBA waters. Others like Riley may choose to do so as well. And while you could almost-guarantee that none of these guys are at a point that they are a sure draft pick, some of these guys may decide to take their chance at the next level rather than risk things with a new head coach.
But those are the conversations for the future.
For now, despair in the end of another UCLA basketball season, but delight in the final act of the Alford Era being complete.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 25 points, Jaylen Hands led the team with 4 assists, and Jalen Hill led the team with 8 assists. Romello White led the Sun Devils with 19 points.
- Player of the Game: Jaylen Hands - Honestly, Hands did not play the best game of his career, and his 1:1 assist to turnover ratio has to be one of his worst of the season (I’m not checking that and you can’t make me), but I have to give him credit for never giving up at any point in this game, and for playing 39 of the 40 total minutes. I said a few weeks ago that Hands was doing his best Aaron Holiday impression, and while it was ultimately unsuccessful, it was at least something that stood out for the Bruins in this game.
- Pressing Question: Does anyone on this staff retain their job under a new coach? - No.
- One last thing about Steve Alford - Honestly, I take a lot of shots at Steve Alford, but I want to give him credit here. In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal featuring rich parents paying to get their kids into colleges they clearly weren’t qualified for, Steve got his kids into UCLA the old-fashioned way, by getting the head coaching position at the school and then giving one son a scholarship, while getting the other one to transfer in and hire him as a video producer when he graduates. That’s just good old nepotism that we don’t see enough of in this day and age.
The season is over. The coaching search takes center stage. Now, as promised, we finish the way we ought to: