Steve Alford 'not happy' with UCLA losses but not sweating future

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Sunday, December 23, 2018

CHICAGO -- Following his team's fifth loss in seven games, UCLAcoach Steve Alford said he isn't focused on the growing resentment from concerned Bruins fans and the speculation about his future.

"There's no issue with that with me," Alford said following his team's 80-66 loss to No. 15 Ohio Stateon Saturday at the United Center. "I just do my job as well as I possibly can, and that's what I do every day. I'm a man of God, so I've got an audience of one. ... And at the end of the day, if I know that I've prepared and worked hard, then that's what matters to me."

The wider audience attached to the UCLA program might disagree with Alford's characterization. UCLA, picked to finish second in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, will enter its holiday break with losses to Michigan State, North Carolina, Belmont, Cincinnatiand Ohio State by 81 points (16.2 per game) combined.

The Bruins suffered a 93-64 loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday.

Before the season began, the team lost Shareef O'Neal and Tyger Campbell -- key members of a top-10 recruiting class -- to season-ending injuries. Many assumed UCLA still had the returning talent to complement five-star Moses Brown on a competitive team. That hasn't materialized.

Alford said he's upset by the team's performance this season. But he said he believes the Bruins can turn the corner.

"You know, obviously with its fans, whether it be at UCLA or anywhere else, you always have those opinions," Alford said.

"That's what you're dealt, and I totally understand that, and I get that. I'm a fan of basketball. I'm not happy. I'm not happy with our losses. I'm not happy with what happened Wednesday night and obviously not happy with getting a loss tonight, but we're working, we're grinding, trying to stay positive with a young group, an inexperienced group."

Two years ago, Alford apologized to fans and voluntarily gave up a one-year extension after a 15-17 season, which was punctuated by a "Fire Alford" banner that was flown over the Westwood campus by a disgruntled fan.

The Bruins have signed some of the nation's top recruiting classes under Alford and reached the Sweet 16 three times. However, they've never won the Pac-12.

Although Alford's contract initially called for a $10 million-plus buyout, the sum is now reduced to $3.6 million if UCLA decides to fire him after the season. If this is Alford's final season with the Bruins, then Saturday's loss to Ohio State felt like a knockdown of a fatigued fighter in the ninth round.

Alford cited his 2014-15 squad as proof of UCLA's chance to reverse this ugly stretch. That squad lost to Kentuckyby 39 points before finishing 11-7 in Pac-12 play and squeezing into the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed before making a run to the Sweet 16.

A year later, however, he faced more criticism for a sub-.500 season.

On Saturday, UCLA failed to fight for loose balls and offensive rebounds in critical moments. Ohio State started 10-for-30, but UCLA could not pull ahead. The Bruins committed 15 turnovers in a sour outing before the holiday break.

"We're battling as hard as we can, and we get it," Alford said. "We understand it's UCLA. ... We had six [freshmen]. It was their first road game, and it was at Cincinnati [last week]. That's not easy. No excuses, but I've just got to show some patience, and I've got to be that leader for the group because right now, finding a leader on our team is hard because I'm not sure anybody is equipped to do it because of our youth. As coaches, we have to believe in them. They have to know that we believe in them, and there's a good trust right now in our locker room among players and coaches. We hang in there, and we keep grinding, and that's what we can control. The other stuff, we can't control that anyway."