UCLA lost once again on Saturday afternoon, this time a 79-70 defeat against Stanford, and it was once again a game marked by lethargic defense, poor offensive focus, and an overwhelming sense that of the two teams, the Cardinal simply wanted to win more than the Bruins.
The details almost don't matter at this point. UCLA is 15-14, and unless something crazy happens in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Bruins, in year three under Steve Alford, are going to miss the NCAA Tournament. As we pointed out preseason, this team certainly didn't have enough talent to compete for a Final Four, but this team had more than enough talent to be better than a .500 team this year, which is looking like a pretty likely outcome at this point.
This game was marked by particularly poor post defense, with Tony Parker falling back into bad habits after a couple of nice performances. His defense was very poor, and led to many easy buckets for the Stanford bigs. But, really, none of the posts played particularly good defense, which helped allow Michael Humphrey and Rosco Allen to go off for 43 points on 19 of 26 shooting. Jonah Bolden was in some foul trouble, so he gets a bit of a pass, but Parker was woeful.
Offensively, UCLA had some major issues as well. Aaron Holiday was forcing the issue too much on offense, as he's been prone to do at times this year, and he ended up turning the ball over four times, but it felt like more. Isaac Hamilton again didn't look as good as he did prior to this Bay Area trip, and again seemed to be forcing shots that weren't there, much more than he did earlier in February or in January. Bryce Alford shot the ball better than he has in a while, particularly from three, so there was that, at least.
Again, though, the details really don't matter. UCLA lost once again to a team that is much less talented, with a coach in Johnny Dawkins who is universlaly regarded as pretty mediocre. Stanford was also missing two key pieces in Reid Travis and Robert Cartwright, who have missed most of the year. And still, UCLA was down by 14 points with just a minute to go. That's entirely on the motivation, energy, and effort of this team, which has been abysmal all year.
The question is now whether UCLA will truly implode. Both Oregon and Oregon State are quality enough teams to beat the Bruins, and the Ducks could beat them badly if the Bruins aren't motivated for that contest. This isn't an intrinsically motivated team, obviously, so it's very difficult to see UCLA suddenly deciding to play hard against the Oregon schools this week in games that don't matter in terms of making the NCAA Tournament. In other words, this team couldn't consistently play hard when the games were obviously important, so it's hard to see them playing better now when the games are much less obviously important.
The quotes after the game give the indications of a team and a coaching staff that has just about packed it in for the season. For the head coach to say in public that the team is giving him blank looks, and for the junior point guard to call out his teammates for not showing up and referring to the team as a "lost cause" is a sign that there's some real dysfunction. We do appreciate the unvarnished honesty, but those kinds of things don't get said in public about a program that's on solid footing.
So, now it becomes a mission to salvage something from this season, or at least keep it from becoming a grim disaster. The Bruins have at least three games remaining, and possibly more if they win in the Pac-12 Tournament, and it's important, especially for Steve Alford, for the team to play hard in these games. Missing the NCAAs in year three obviously isn't good, but doing so while imploding down the stretch would thrust Alford firmly on to the hot seat heading into next year -- and perhaps even sooner if it gets ugly enough.
We'll likely do a longer assessment of the team and the program later this week.