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Basketball Bruins in Ruins

December 31st, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, UCLA

Those of us who grew up with the UCLA basketball of John Wooden … and serial NCAA basketball championships … well, we were ruined for life.

After 10 national titles in 12 seasons, including seven (!) consecutive through 1973, and an 88-game winning streak, unrealistic expectations became the norm.

I distinctly remember listening to UCLA’s double-overtime loss to North Carolina State in the 1974 NCAA semifinals, the Bruins’ first playoffs defeat since 1963. I was working at my father’s gas station; we had the radio tuned to the game. I was shattered.

UCLA did not disappear, when Wooden rode into the sunset after one more title. There was a championship in 1995 from a team coached by Jim Harrick and starring the O’Bannon brothers, title-game appearances in 1980 and 2006 and final-four trips in 1976, 2007 and 2008.

After a decade or four, only the aging fans from the days of Wooden approached every season as a “championship or bust” proposition. But, too, UCLA could never be ordinary. Let alone ridiculous.

Which is why the Bruins fired coach Steve Alford late last night.

The ouster of the former Indiana standout, who had been running the UCLA program with mixed results since 2013, came after two shocking home defeats over a span of 15 days, both to mid-major teams.

The first: 74-72, on December 15, to Belmont University of Nashville, a private school that joined the top college basketball division in 2001-02 and has never won an NCAA playoffs game.

The second: 73-58 on Saturday night to Liberty University of Lynchburg, Va., the most lopsided home defeat suffered by the Bruins during the Alford era. Seth Curry (brother of Steph) played for Liberty, but they came with even hoops notoriety less than Belmont.

And we discovered that UCLA still has a floor of expectations, and Alford found it — consecutive home defeats to mid-major teams from mostly unknown Bible Belt teams. With fans booing at halftime. And prominent alumni tweeting their dissatisfaction.

Granted, Belmont and and Liberty were not awful, but the Bruins were.

The Liberty game was a particular disgrace, with fans booing the team off the Pauley Pavilion court at halftime. Afterward, Alford seemed to blame his own players, many of them prominent recruits, for the defeat, and prominent alumni tweeted their disapproval.

Nothing lasts forever, especially in sports. Nothing is guaranteed. Results are earned, not awarded.

But in some sports at some places something north of competence is required, and UCLA basketball has not fallen so far that it can start 7-6, with home defeats to Belmont and Liberty, without something drastic happening to someone in authority.

In this case, Steve Alford, ex-coach at UCLA.


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