Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Sweet 16: Perception of Steve Alford meeting the reality of UCLA basketball

There are few programs in the country with the tradition, history and mystique that the UCLA Bruins encompass. It could be said, though, that those things also bring a world’s worth of expectations with it. Those expectations, mind you, are the same reason Steve Lavin and Ben Howland were not good enough to carry the UCLA program into the future. UCLA fans are now hoping that their current head coach, Steve Alford, happens to be a different story.

Just a year removed from Howland getting the heave, Alford has his version of the Bruins ready to face the Florida Gators in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Pretty good for his first year at the helm, right?


Not that it is bad either, but Sweet 16 runs aren’t going to cut it for the UCLA fanbase. Not when Howland got axed five years after making back-to-back-to-back Final Four runs or, before that, Lavin got canned for making at least the Sweet 16 five out of his seven years as the leader of their program.

Simply put, the Sweet 16 is a great accomplishment, for programs not named UCLA.

Oddly enough, however, Steve Alford making it to this portion of the Big Dance is a pretty substantial personal accomplishment. Before this year, Aflord had not participated in a Sweet 16 game since 1999, when he was the head coach of Southwest Missouri State.

None of that really matters now, though. People on social media might use the fact that it has been well over a decade since Alford marched this deep into the NCAA Tournament, but he also never had a program with such resources quite like UCLA at his fingertips before.

All of that leads the Bruins and Alford to tomorrow night. One game that can transform the UCLA program back into a national darling and far from the perception of a program and a fanbase that has been clinging to the memories of John Wooden for far too long. Which, fair or not, is how a large portion of people outside the Bruins’ reach view everything surrounding UCLA.

It is going to be no easy task. Florida is everyone’s favorite pick to win the entire shebang. Led by their own masterful coach, Billy Donovan, the Gators aren’t going to care about how important this game is to the resurgence of a UCLA program that never really fell off the map.

Which brings us back to the perception of Steve Alford not being a great tournament coach. It also brings us right smack dab in the middle of the reality of UCLA basketball. Both of which might not be true, but each has something riding on the line on Thursday night.

Mar 14, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford instructs against the Stanford Cardinal during the first half in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Conference college basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For UCLA, it is the idea that they aren’t clinging onto the past. That letting Howland go was not only the right move, but a progressive one. A decision that will have ripple effects for years, leading to more top-tier recruits, and a return to annual visits to the Final Four.

Alford, on the other hand, has even more at stake. Not only does he have to prove to the naysayers that he is a good coach, regardless of the time of the year, but he has to show the temperamental UCLA fanbase that they did indeed make the right decision by bringing him in. Especially after the rocky start to his era as the main man in charge of the program.

If the Bruins were to lose, it certainly wouldn’t mean the end of Alford at UCLA. Nor would it mean that UCLA basketball is dead. However, it would help propel the Alford is no better than Howland, who was no better than Lavin, narrative into a full tizzy.

Mar 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Norman Powell (4) shoots against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the first half of a men


As mentioned earlier, Alford’s perception and UCLA’s reality are meeting on Thursday night. Nothing more than that is at stake because nothing bigger could actually be on the line.

The reality of the UCLA Bruins basketball program is that Sweet 16 runs are not good enough. That’s the reality because they have made it so. Not because of the “failures” of Steve Lavin or Ben Howland. Rather, it has more to do with how they view themselves despite being generations removed from a world in which UCLA rang synonymous with yearly college hoops dominance.

That is the reality that Steve Alford has to deal with. Which is weird considering the perception he brings with him.

So yeah, a spot in the Elite Eight is also on the line. But that is actually playing second fiddle to what is really on the line, the reality of UCLA basketball and perception of Steve Alford merging.

And, honestly, it could go either way.

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Tags: March Madness Ncaa Tournament Steve Alford Sweet 16 Ucla Bruins

  • pennyfan041

    Unfortunately, this idea brings unfair baggage with it and piles said baggage on top of Coach Alford’s head. This isn’t the team he recruited. These are Ben Howland’s players. They were a fringe top 25 team, and Alford has them in the sweet-16. Beating Florida should be a credit to Alford, but losing to them shouldn’t be to his discredit. They are the obvious #1 team in the nation. It won’t be a failed season if UCLA loses this game. Alford has already taken UCLA to a point beyond their reasonable expectations. Let the next couple years of Alford’s recruits come in. Then, we’ll see what sort of coach he is.

    • retired21

      Actually, Alford has 2 of his own recruits – his kids. One of them is a pretty good ball player and has been a key player all year off the bench. Florida will likely win this game, but I think it could be fairly close.

      • pennyfan041

        This is true, though Bryce is the only one who will see the court.

  • BL Woods

    Howland obviously did several things well. There are things he didn’t do very well. Obviously there’s nothing better than winning in any sport and at any level. To Howland’s credit many GM’s said his players that turned pro had a certain toughness and knew the basics when they turned pro. And if you look at the number of guys who went into the league during the Howland era is pretty remarkable. The problem with Howland is that outside of his first year he wasn’t able to land five-star recruits from California (save Jrue Holliday). There are several reasons for Howland’s woes in this area. First, kids nowadays want to play above the rim and run the floor, not walk it up the court. The other problem is that the Howland system (particularly the plodding offense) didn’t highlight the skills/athleticism that many AAU coaches wanted to see their kids graduate to. After all, there’s no better advertisement for these coaches than a kid at a major program who gets to show off a high-level skill set. For a major program that is unable to sign high-level talent in a rich talent pool such as California is telling. And when prospects sign at other ‘nearby’ schools (Arizona, Stanford,etc) it really hurts the program.

    If Alford beats Florida…I’m not saying it’ll be easy…I’m not even predicting they will win. But if they do, Alford will be considered a savior…and if they manage to win the whole thing. I guarantee you’ll see Alford’s picture on the cover of some sports magazine with the title saying “The New Wizard Of Westwood?”