Reports: Steve Alford to be fired by UCLA

Steve Alford called Saturday’s 15-point loss to Liberty “one of the most disappointing games” he’s had in his 28-year coaching career. It may be the coach’s final undoing at UCLA.

According to multiple reports, UCLA will fire their sixth-year head coach in the midst of a four-game losing streak that dropped the Bruins to 7-6 at the end of nonconference play. An announcement could come by Monday, according to reports from Scott Bilo, The Athletic and Bruin Report Online.

The Bruins, who lost to Belmont, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Liberty during a two-week span, are on their longest losing skid since the 2015-16 season, when they finished 15-17, UCLA’s first losing season since it hired John Wooden in 1948.

Alford returned a 2014 contract extension following that disappointing season. The following year, he coached UCLA to its third Sweet 16 in four years with fantastic freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf leading one of the top offensive teams in the country.

The brief success led to Alford receiving the extension he returned, which put him under contract through the 2020-21 season.

Since then, the Bruins have a 28-18 record, had players who were involved in a shoplifting scandal that made international headlines and lost an NCAA play-in game to St. Bonaventure. Despite questions about Alford’s job security swirling, UCLA still pulled in another top recruiting class this season, led by five-star 7-foot-1 center Moses Brown, but have struggled without a clear, experienced leader.

UCLA has three former McDonald’s All-Americans with Brown and sophomores Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, but have lost each of their past three games by double digits since a narrow two-point defeat against Belmont on Dec. 15.

The Bruins start conference play Thursday at 8 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion against Stanford.

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Jaylen Hands leads UCLA’s rout over Detroit Mercy

LOS ANGELES — Prince Ali pushed the ball ahead to Jaylen Hands. Hands took it and elevated for a two-handed reverse dunk.

Detroit Mercy’s Josh McFolley stood in the corner on the opposite end of the court and scratched his head.

The Titans were reduced to spectators to UCLA’s run-and-gun, dunk contest Sunday night as the Bruins dominated in a 106-73 win at Pauley Pavilion.

On the heels of what head coach Steve Alford called their worst offensive performance of the year, the Bruins (7-1) were on pace to shoot a season-high percentage from the field before emptying their bench late in the game. They tied their season-high in points, set in an overtime win against Central Arkansas, and held the Titans, the seventh-highest scoring team in the country known for a fast pace of play, to 43.1 percent shooting and just two fast-break points.

“I thought it was maybe our most complete game,” Alford said. “I was really pleased with our 40-minute effort.”

Hands led the offensive explosion with a career-high 23 points off the bench with 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Ali added 20 points and four assists.

Coming off the bench for the second straight game due to a left foot sprain, Hands immediately sparked his team. When he checked in at the 15:23 mark of the first half, the Bruins were hanging onto a three-point lead. Eight minutes later, their lead had swelled to 18 points.

The San Diego native turned two steals into transition dunks and made his first five field goal attempts. He had two assists during the run for the Bruins.

Hands’ only misstep was an awkward dunk in the first half on which he was forced to hang onto the rim. He wasn’t sure if he got enough air on the jump as his usual explosiveness still compromised by the foot injury. He was assessed a technical foul for the mistake.

“No more of that,” he said with a bashful smile. “That made me mad.”

With Hands on the court during the first half, UCLA outscored the Titans by 20. Without the McDonald’s All-America point guard, they gave up a three-point advantage.

UCLA was just 2 for 17 from the 3-point line in its last game against Cal State Bakersfield, but made 11 of its 25 shots from long distance Sunday, including 4 of 9 during the second half. Hands led the way with four 3-pointers.

Detroit Mercy (4-4) often sacrificed efficiency for speed on offense and couldn’t keep pace with the Bruins in transition. Despite the fast pace of play, the Bruins had only eight turnovers to 20 assists. They scored 21 points in transition and 10 on dunks in the second half.

Hands slammed down a two-handed reverse for his final basket of the night. He tried an alley-oop to fellow freshman Chris Smith, but Smith, who finished with 14 points in 19 minutes, was stuffed by the rim. Smith got his dunk on his next basket, though.

“That was the most fun we had in a game this year, so that was a really big deal,” Hands said. “I think it’s a really big confidence booster going into the next stretch of games we have before conference play, so that was really fun to do.”

The Bruins finish their four-game homestand, which Alford has dubbed “growth week,” Wednesday before traveling to Ann Arbor, Mich., for their only true road came of the nonconference season on Saturday.

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