Steve Alford spurns New Mexico to sign with UCLA

New Mexico men's basketball coach Steve Alford discusses his hiring as coach by UCLA, during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday, March 30, 2013. Alford said it was a difficult decision but that UCLA represents "the pinnacle" of men's college basketball. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
New Mexico men's basketball coach Steve Alford discussed his hiring as coach by UCLA on Saturday. (AP)
AP

Steve Alford was hired as UCLA basketball coach Saturday, spurning New Mexico days after he agreed to a new, 10-year deal with the Lobos for a chance to run what he called ‘‘the premier basketball program in the country.’’

The Bruins are bringing in someone who shares the same Indiana roots as John Wooden, who led UCLA to a record 10 national titles, including seven in a row, before retiring in 1975. Alford learned about Wooden as a first-grader in Martinsville, Ind., where his father, Sam, coached the high school basketball team at Wooden’s alma mater.

‘‘Ever since then there was a draw to find out more about him,’’ Alford said. ‘‘I know my first steps into Pauley [Pavilion] I will really feel that.’’

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Alford agreed to a seven-year deal worth $18.2 million, with a yearly salary of $2.6 million and a $200,000 signing bonus, according to UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero.

‘‘This is truly a leap of faith,’’ Alford said.

Guerrero said UCLA reached out to Alford first, not knowing whether he would be interested. Once he confirmed he was, the details were finalized early Saturday, Guerrero said.

‘‘It was not an easy decision because I was extremely happy,’’ Alford said. ‘‘I was about as happy as I can be.

Alford’s deal with New Mexico, scheduled to take effect Monday, was worth more than $20 million over 10 years.

Alford, 48, succeeds Ben Howland, who was fired last weekend after 10 years and a 233-107 record that included three consecutive Final Four appearances and four Pac-12 titles. The Bruins were 25-10 this season, which ended with a 20-point loss to Minnesota in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Fantastic flashback

Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino are finally doing a tournament encore.

For the first time since their teams played perhaps the greatest game in the history of the NCAA Tournament, Krzyzewski and Pitino will meet again Sunday when top-seeded Louisville faces Duke in Indianapolis. In the regional finals, no less.

Never mind that few of their current players were even born in 1992. Or that Pitino is no longer at Kentucky, having switched sides in the state’s civil war after his brief trip to Boston and the NBA ended badly.

Krzyzewski and Pitino are forever linked by that one game in Philadelphia, immortalized by Christian Laettner’s improbable buzzer-beater.

‘‘It’s one of those moments in time that helped define our sport,’’ Krzyzewski said Saturday. ‘‘When I’ve talked to Rick about it, we realize we were the lucky guys. We had different roles at that time, but we were both lucky to be there.’’

Said Pitino, ‘‘It was like being in Carnegie Hall and seeing the best musician or the best singer. Just sitting there in amazement of what they were doing out on the basketball court.’’

Krzyzewski and Pitino are two of the finest coaches of their generation, with five NCAA titles and 1,618 victories between them. Yet for all of their success, and for as good a friends as they are, Krzyzewski and Pitino rarely play each other.

When Louisville (32-5) and Duke (30-5) played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November — Duke won — it was the first time Krzyzewski and Pitino had played each other since ’92. Sunday’s game will be their third meeting ever.

In Sunday’s other game, No. 4 seed Michigan (29-7) plays SEC regular-season champion and No. 3 seed Florida (29-7) for the South Regional title on the raised court at ultramodern Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Wolverines are led by Trey Burke, who is the first player to have 20 points and 10 assists in the NCAA round of 16 game since 1997. The last to do it? A Providence player known as ‘‘Billy The Kid’’ — a.k.a. Florida coach Billy Donovan, who will be on the opposite bench when his Gators play in their third consecutive regional final.

Drury, Metro St. in D2 final

Alex Hall scored a season-high 35 points, making seven 3-pointers to help Drury topple defending champion Western Washington, 107-97, in the NCAA Division 2 semifinal at Louisville, Ky.

In the earlier semifinal, Jonathan Morse, Brandon Jefferson, and Nicholas Kay each scored 17 points, helping Metro State overcome a second-half rally by top-ranked West Liberty for an 83-76 upset.