UCLA Introduces Steve Alford

Steve Alford’s tenure at UCLA is not off to a rousing start

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When Steve Alford was hired at UCLA almost two months ago, my initial reaction was one of optimism.

Alford had turned New Mexico into the dominant program in a very good Mountain West. Regardless of the post season flameouts that he’s had — he hasn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament this century, literally — he’s been a winning basketball coach and he’s landed good players  from California.

Those are two things that Ben Howland hadn’t done of late, and given that the Bruins had already been turned down by the likes of Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart, ending up with Alford wasn’t bad.

But the new union has been anything but perfect, as chronicled by Chris Foster of the LA Times over the weekend. It starts with Alford’s drawn out contract dispute with New Mexico, who claimed that he owed them a $1 million buyout. Alford, however, argued that since he left the program on March 30th, two days before the 10-year contract that he signed was due to officially begin, that he only needed to pay his old buyout.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. Alford was grilled about the way that he handled the Pierre Pierce scandal while at Iowa at his introductory press conference, as was the UCLA administration:

UCLA athletic administrators were stunned. They had signed Alford to a seven-year, $18.2-million contract with the expectation that his hiring would invigorate an apathetic fan base. They expected him to be greeted with open arms.

Guerrero was also questioned — about whether UCLA had properly vetted its new coach and investigated what happened at Iowa. He said he “clearly discussed” the Pierce situation with Alford before hiring him.

However, when Alford was asked a similar question, he said the topic never came up.

Guerrero later amended his comment, saying he discussed Pierce with his staff and Alford’s representatives, but not with Alford.

The controversy prompted one group of UCLA fans to circulate a petition calling for Guerrero to be fired because he had “disregarded Mr. Alford’s history of defending a sex offender or did little to no research into Mr. Alford’s past.”

With little publicity, the petition generated nearly 2,000 signatures.

Alford was forced to apologize for the way he handled the situation, which one could easily have interpreted as public bullying of a victim. And that was before Pat Harty, an Iowa reporter, published a stirring piece about his proximity to the scandal.

And if that wasn’t enough, the team across town hired a hotshot young coach with a bombshell wife in Andy Enfield who then proceeded to go out and hire the top two assistant coaches out west.

It will be a long time before we can truly evaluate Alford’s hire, but the early returns are in, and they are not pretty.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Auburn suspends leading scorer Canty indefinitely

Auburn guard Kareem Canty (1) screams in pain after being fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
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Prior to Auburn’s game at Georgia Saturday evening, head coach Bruce Pearl announced that leading scorer and starting point guard Kareem Canty has been suspended indefinitely.

Canty’s currently averaging 18.3 points per game and his abilities as a scorer and distributor have been key for the Tigers offensively. When Canty returns to the court remains to be seen, with Pearl noting that Canty may be able to return before the end of the season.

“Kareem has had some strong moments for our team this season,” Pearl said. “He has demonstrated that at the highest level of competition, he can win his matchup.

“However, his effort and attitude have been extremely inconsistent, which led to actions and behavior that are unacceptable. He will step away from the team for a while and may return later in the season. He is suspended indefinitely.”

According to the release Cinmeon Bowers will move into the starting lineup for Auburn, which is now 9-13 overall and 3-7 in SEC play. Auburn’s lost five straight and eight of their last ten games after losing by ten at Georgia Saturday night.

Without him more minutes are available to freshman New Williams, who played 22 minutes against Georgia. Bryce Brown started and played 18 minutes, with Devin Waddell playing 12 minutes off the bench.

Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis go crazy, No. 20 Kentucky beats Florida by 19

Kentucky's Jamal Murray (23) shoots near Missouri's Ryan Rosburg during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Jamal Murray scored a career-high 35 points and became the first Kentucky player to hit eight threes in a game since 2010.

Tyler Ulis had 18 points and 11 assists.

As a result, No. 20 Kentucky bounced back Tuesday’s loss to Tennessee — when the Wildcats blew a 21-point lead — as they blew out a good Florida team, 80-61. The final score doesn’t really do the beat down justice, either. Kentucky was up 24-5 seven minutes into the game. The Gators, who look like they may end up being seeded as high as the No. 6 line on Selection Sunday, never had a chance.

If Kentucky was trying to prove a point, they did. I’m not sure if Murray and Ulis make up the nation’s best back court in college basketball, but on Saturday, they looked like the best back court in the entire world. They were awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that they were responsible for 64 of Kentucky’s 80 points tonight.

And that’s where this win can be a bit concerning.

Look, the issue with Kentucky is that they don’t get near enough production out of their front court, and if the knee injury that kept Alex Poythress out of the lineup on Saturday ends up being at all serious, than UK’s most productive big will be out of commission. On Saturday, Kentucky’s front court — minus Derek Willis, who is more of a wing that’s been slotted at the four — finished with a grand total of 10 points, 15 boards and 12 fouls.

That issue isn’t going away just because Ulis and Murray played an unbelievable game against one of the nation’s top five defenses, according to KenPom.com. You don’t buy a house with termites just because you love the way that it’s furnished.

But what this performance shows you is what Kentucky’s ceiling is, what they are capable of on the night’s when their two stars play like stars.

If they get hot at the right time, they can beat anyone in March. Hell, this could be enough to carry them to the Elite 8, maybe further.

When those two can play that well in a season where there is no dominant team, you can’t really count anything out.

But it also means that Kentucky is capable of losing to anyone on any given night, and all it takes is one cold shooting night for Kentucky’s run in March to come to an early end.