As I write this, nine games (not counting the Pac-12 Tournament) remain in UCLA’s basketball season.
From an outsider’s point of view, the Bruins’ 16-6 overall record, 6-3 conference record, and the fact that they are just one game behind the conference leaders looks pretty good, certainly better than where they were at this time last season.
However, I am officially going to state that despite the team’s improvement in their win-loss record…
Despite their top-ranked recruiting class led by Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson – who have not disappointed in their performances this year as Muhammad and Adams are the team’s top two scorers, with Anderson listed fourth as well as being the Bruins’ top rebounder, and…
Despite UCLA’s 11-game winning streak that they accomplished earlier in the season and beating two top-ten teams, Arizona and Missouri – with the Arizona win coming on the road in front of the usually hostile crowd in Tucson no less…
In my humble opinion Ben Howland, in the middle of his tenth year in Westwood, will be coaching for his job during these last few weeks of the regular season.
1. The fact that the Bruins have lost three out of their last four games, including a defeat at home to a 9-13 USC team that took advantage of the Bruins’ lack of anyone who can make a difference down below and did what they wanted in the paint and on the boards; which leads us to the second reason:
2. The fact that with center Tony Parker, the fourth freshman in that heralded class, not being effective – his lack of playing time has illustrated that – and Joshua Smith, after some frustrating and underachieving times in Westwood, now a Georgetown Hoya, Pac-12 opponents have the blueprint on how to beat UCLA: Beat them up in the paint, which Oregon, Arizona State and the Trojans have recently done. And which the rest of the conference will undoubtedly be aiming to do as, to be blunt, the Bruins are weak in that area.
3. It has been said that Howland has shown to be stubborn in his game planning, i.e., sticking to man-to-man defense instead of going to a zone, and the issues concerning his coaching style and approach and the number of players that have left the program either by transferring or going pro have been well documented.
Indeed, that 11-game win streak – as well as the three Final Fours reached in 2006, 2007 and 2008 – is both a distant memory and ancient history as UCLA resumes play against Washington in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.
Plus, as I said to people when they signed, there’s a small window of opportunity for this basketball team to achieve something great because as sure as I am writing this, by November of this year Muhammad (definitely), and most likely Adams and Anderson, will be wearing NBA uniforms and have multi-million dollar contracts in their Armani suit pockets.
That is why time is of the essence with this squad. To put it as simply as I can, the Bruins must reach the Sweet Sixteen – at minimum – or else it will be time to say that Howland’s tenure in Westwood has run its course, the page needs to be turned, and someone new and fresh must be brought in to start over.
I certainly wish Howland and his UCLA hoops team all the luck in the world moving forward; there’s still time for the ship to turn around but it absolutely must be righted.
And the way things are going as of late, I must be honest: If the Bruins don’t perform up to snuff, I won’t be completely surprised.
MEANWHILE, HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON IN BRUIN NATION:
* The 4th-ranked Women’s Gymnastics team, led by a perfect ten on the vault by Vanessa Zamarrippa, beat Stanford on the road on Saturday. They currently stand at 4-0 and will return to Pauley Pavilion this coming Sunday for their next meet as they will host Washington, U.C. Davis and Sacramento State.
* The Women’s Basketball team is rolling along, the Lady Bruins beating 22nd-ranked Colorado on Friday and blowing out Utah on Sunday, 70-42. UCLA’s female hoopsters are 17-4, 8-2 in the Pac-12, and remain in the top 25 at number 18 – with showdowns against #4 Stanford and #6 California at home looming on the horizon.
* In football, National Signing Day – which had essentially become a national holiday equivalent to Draft Day in the NFL – is on February 6th. Coach Jim Mora is promising to bring in a stellar recruiting class, but due to my personal tradition of not mentioning any names until their signatures on their letters of intent are faxed into UCLA’s football offices at the Morgan Center on campus, a complete report/analysis of the new Bruins and the chances of them making any significant contributions this fall will be written on Thursday morning.
In the meantime, a Signing Day celebration, in which Mora will show clips and talk about his new signees, will be held in Pauley on February 6th at 7:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public. For more information, go to www.UCLABruins.com.