UC Riverside has fired head basketball coach Dennis Cutts midway through his fifth season with the program. Associate head coach Justin Bell will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
The Highlanders are 5-9 on the season but did not finish better than 14-17 during Cutts tenure, finishing 6th or 8th in the Big West in each of his four full seasons. Cutts has actually been with the program since 2007, serving as an assistant to previous head coach Jim Wooldridge for six seasons before taking over as head coach himself.
The UC Riverside job is a tough one. The Highlanders have only been in the NCAA’s top Division since 2000, but had a lot of success in the previous few decades as a Division II program. That includes three D-II Final Four appearances and a runner-up finish in the 1995 tournament. However, a tie for 4th place in 2009 is the best the team has done since joining the D-I Big West Conference (their only winning season so far).
Athletic director Tamica Smith Jones had this to say in a statement on Monday: “There is a need to elevate our men’s basketball program to a more consistent level, to more effectively compete with mid-major Division I programs.”
New interim coach Bell had been one of Cutts’ assistants since 2012 and is a former UC-R player. The Highlanders actually opened this season with an upset victory at Cal, but the program is still very much looking to turn a corner at the highest level of NCAA competition.