The Bruins pulled off an expected but always celebrated victory over Southern Cal on Sunday night at the
Sam's Club Galen Center, in the first of a stretch of must win games for UCLA. While beating the Trojans is always something to be happy about, the fact is that at 5-13 and a #164 ranking in Ken Pomeroy's latest ranking, they are a team that even this year's Bruins should have no problem blowing out of their own gym. For that matter, as Scott Reid noted, these last 3 wins did not come against particularly tough competition.
What do the last three wins mean? OK so UCLA has rattled off three very impressive wins. But it’s still hard to get a read on the Bruins. Has UCLA turned the corner or just hit a soft patch in the schedule? The three wins have come against teams that started last week ranked 58th (Arizona), 163rd (USC) and 196th (Arizona State) in the RPI.
The Bruins are riding a nice stretch, having won 8 of the last 10 games, but still need to prove that they can win away from home - Sunday's win over Southern Cal was the first road win - is Galen Center actually farther away from Westwood than the Sports Arena - with the Maui Invitational victory over Chaminade the only win away from the designated home courts this season. The next, more significant part of the test comes with this weekend's trip into Oregon, starting on Thursday night with the game at Oregon State. A win in Corvallis will go further in testing this Bruin squad's ability to compete in a mediocre Pac-12 than the trip across town did, but honestly a win on Thursday should be the least that can be expected out of a team looking to still be playing come March.
The Beavers started out hot, going 10-2 in non-conference play, beating (a weakened) Texas team and coming within a basket of a solid Vanderbilt squad while uncharacteristically becoming one of the nation's highest scoring teams during that period. The start of Pac-12 play has seen a pretty significant fall in fortunes for these woodland creatures; while still putting points on the board (488 in 6 games), the Beavers have been awful on defense, giving up 521 points on the way to a 1-5 start to conference play. The 2 Pac-12 games that the Beavers have played at home have been competitive performances, defeating Cal and taking Stanford to 4 overtime periods, but after being swept in trips to the Arizona and Washington schools, Oregon State is down to an early 11th place showing in the conference standings.Solid showing against the Commadores aside, the Oregon State non-conference slate was pretty weak; currently, it rates #331 out of 345 D-1 teams in Pomeroy's strength of schedule ranking. Seth Davis panned a bunch of possible bubble teams for their weak non-conference scheduling in his CNNSI.com column today. The Beavers absence from that list despite their 11 wins and non-conference slate as weak or weaker than the 10 programs that he took to task should tell give us an idea where that team stands. And while it is an increasingly tight spot, it is not somewhere that Bruins should see any possibility of failing. Losing decisively at home to an Idaho squad currently 9-9 does not speak too well for the homecourt advantage.
On the floor, Oregon State is one team that can compete with UCLA's height advantage, with two 6-10 players featured in Craig Robinson's recent starting lineups, and 3 other players available - albeit playing minimal minutes to date - measuring 6-9 or taller. Jared Cunningham returns as the star of the team, leading the Pac-12 with 17.6 ppg while Ahmad Starks has taken a main outside shooting role in his sophomore season, attempting nearly 7-3 pointers a game in averaging 13.7 ppg, 2nd behind Cunningham for the Beavers.
UPDATE (P) - As Jon Gold has just shared via Facebook (ht - Westwood Wizard), Coach Howland told the media today that DeEnd Parker is likely to transfer out of UCLA. Parker was taking an injury redshirt this season after playing 2 early games for the Bruins before being shelved due to a knee injury. As Howland alluded to, there have been some recent health issues in DeEnd's family, and at the face of it, it seems that he just wants to be closer to home in these times. From the quote below, it sounds like Howland will be supporting a hardship waiver seeking to allow Parker to play D-1 ball without having to sit out next season.
#UCLA Ben Howland: "De'End went home from Christmas and I think we're going to try to help him try to petition to try to transfer to get closer to his home, to his mom."