UCLA starts the Pac-12 season tomorrow night with a huge trip in the Bay Area. We have picked up a little bit of momentum with a 5 game win streak in the PRN era. Yet our record is at a mediocre 7-5 and way below our pre-season expectations. If Ben Howland wants to salvage this season, Bruins will need to put together a torrid run through a pathetic Pac-12 conference schedule, erasing the humiliating 2-5 start that embarrassed Coach Wooden's program.
As Ryan put it in his season setting expectations/predictions post for UCLA hoops for 2011-12 season:
Simply put, UCLA needs to win the Pac-12 this season. There is no excuse for not winning it. The conference is going to be atrocious and the Bruins haven't topped the Pac since 2008. When the Bruins walk into Staples Center for the Pac-12 Tournament, they better be doing so as the number one seed. That will put them in position to get that ultra-valuable protected seed out West in the NCAA Tournament. From a results standpoint, the Pac-12 crown and protected seed are what matter.
Additionally, the Bruins need to return to the tough, hard nosed defense that was the staple of the program just a few years ago. Nobody takes possessions off on defense and coaches hold the players accountable for their work on the defensive end.
Finally, the Bruins need to finish the season strong. A 2-3 finish to the season with one of those wins being an ugly, poor performance against Wazzu like last season won't cut it. Finishing with five losses in their last seven like in 2010? Nope. We need to be in top gear and ready to step on the Pac-12's throat as we come down the back stretch.
Despite the sorry start this year, we are not going to change our expectations all that much. Bruins may not be a sure shot to win the conference at this point. However, the conference is still a joke and Bruins have more than enough talent on our roster to make a run. This means Bruins will have to go up to Bay Area and at the very least come back at least with a split. We will have more on our collective conference predictions later tonight via DC Bruins.
As for our conference opener tomorrow night v. Stanford, news came out earlier this week that that both Lazeric Jones and Norman Powell sprained their ankles and were in protective boots. The latest update on these two "returned to practice" yesterday and that they will play at Stanford. Either way, we don't want to see Howland or anyone associated with the program using guard depth as an excuse given it's an issue we have been talking about for last three years. If Howland and his staff had gone after and offered guys like Stephen Holt (Saint Mary) and Spence Dinwiddie (Colorado), instead of chasing long shot national prospects who were never going to come to UCLA, Bruins wouldn't be in such dire straits in the back court this year. So no ... injury excuses will not fly.
Also worth noting, given Chianti Dan's poor planning around Pauley renovation, the "true road game" experience this week shouldn't be all that big deal for our team. From Peter Yoon:
The Bruins, however, aren't all that concerned about playing on the road considering every game they have played so far this season has felt like a road game as they have stayed in hotels before each one.
"I'm hoping that because we've played all of our games in a little more difficult situation than everybody else in their homes games that it will help us some as we go into this," coach Ben Howland said. "The only difference is we'll have fans yelling at us when we go on the road this time and we'll take a short plane ride."
It would behoove the Bruins if, indeed, the home-away-from-home experience has helped prepare them for the road because UCLA plays five of its next seven games on the road. The two home games during that stretch will be at the Honda Center, UCLA's secondary home this season, meaning the Bruins will go from Dec. 23 to Jan. 26 without playing on the Sports Arena court where they play the majority of their home games this season.
"It's definitely prepared us a lot because I feel like I've spent a lot of time in a hotel lately," forward David Wear said. "It's been good. It's not going to be anything new to us being in hotels before a game and going through walkthroughs and stuff like that, so it will be good."
It will be good, if the Bruins can get started on the right note tomorrow night in Maples with a victory against the Trees.