UCLA Basketball Notes: Looking Ahead For This Season and Next

How far has UCLA fallen this year? First, it is official that UCLA has to play four games in four days to win the Pac-12 tournament. As Chris Foster of the fishwrap gleefully points out:

Oregon's 74-73 victory over Oregon State on Sunday means the Bruins cannot be among the top-four seeded teams in the Pac-12 Conference tournament and will have to win four games in four nights to advance to the NCAA tournament.

The Ducks (20-8 overall, 11-5 in conference play) have a two-game lead over the Bruins (16-13, 9-7) with two games left, and hold the tiebreaker. Oregon beat UCLA, 75-68, in the only meeting between the tams. Washington, California and Arizona are already out of the Bruins' reach.

UCLA was the preseason pick to win the conference title by the media. Bruins' players downsized their goal to finishing fourth or higher in recent weeks.

Coach Ben Howland said last week that history is against teams winning four games in four nights during conference tournaments.

The second pointquarter is another sign that hits fans hard (or maybe soft depending on your point of view). As of right now the WSU game Thursday night is NOT on TV, anywhere. Even the exhibition games were on "Bruin TV." This is just sad.

While Bruins hopes of the tournament remain all but extinguished, according to the blogs we are not out of the running for top prep-players Tony Parker and Shabazz Muhammad. First on Parker who takes the following position on the current team:

On Hearing Negative Things About UCLA...

It really doesn't affect my decision to go to UCLA. Everyone has a bad experience with every school on their list and how they don't like the coach and what he does and does not do. ... You have to filter out the reasonable stories and the outrageous ones. It really won't faze me because I've been to UCLA and I know what it's about. It's like when everyone says Coach K is "stuck up," but I've met him and know him. I know what is true and what is not. That talk doesn't matter to me.

Next we may have a timeframe for a Tony Parker decision.

After taking a weekend visit to Kansas, Tony Parker is finished taking trips and will likely announce his college choice at the McDonald's All-American Game, his father told SNY.tv.

"I think he's going to do it at the McDonald's Game," Virgil Parker said Monday morning in a phone interview.

The game is set for March 28 at the United Center in Chicago and is preceded by several days of practices.

Virgil said his son, a skilled 6-foot-9 center from Lithonia (Ga.) Miller Grove High, will choose from among Kansas, UCLA, Duke, Ohio State, Memphis and Georgia. He confirmed that Kentucky and UConn were no longer in the mix.

Shabazz, Kyle Anderson, and Tony Parker are close. Anderson has been doing a great job trying to recruit Shabazz and Parker. It may be a good sign that Parker dropped Kentucky for UCLA fans. But the Kansas factor may be a bad sign. Shabazz's dad Ron Holmes stated:

Muhammad and his father visited for the Border War - an 87-86 OT win Saturday over Missouri - and also spent time with fellow 2012 uncommitted players Tony Parker and JaKarr Sampson.

"When you go on these official visits, you might have a perception about a school but you can really see yourself playing there if the official visit goes right and the official visit definitely went right," Holmes said.

Muhammad is considering Kansas along with Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, Arizona and UNLV.

"We go to Duke next week and do the North Carolina game," Holmes said of the March 3 game at Cameron Indoor. "Just interested to see how it compares because I was very, very impressed with Kansas."

Regardless of what the kids or their fathers say, I think it has to help for UCLA to finish strong. Of course key to that is Ben Howland not being stubborn. And if there was a simple way to prove he is flexible, it is against WSU. The WSU game cries out for UCLA to play zone. There are a number of good reasons to play zone. Will Howland give in and try? Here are three.

1. To play in a tournament with back to back games the players will need to rest more. Zone is much easier to play than man to man. Maybe the most obvious victims of being tired are the Wear twins. As Howland said after the last game:

On the Wear brothers:

"I thought in the first half that the Wears rebounded the ball really well, they had 5 and 6 in the first half."

Ah, Howland, do you think there is a cause and effect for why they did not rebound as well in the second half (3 rebounds in the last 14 minutes)? Maybe they were tired from so many minutes?

2. UCLA is a better team with Josh Smith on the court. He attracts so much attention on offense alone that he changes the game. But that is not all Josh attracts. Josh attracts fouls and every team knows you drag Josh out of the paint with his man to (best case) draw a foul on him or (worse case) tire him out. Either way the opponent's win. In a zone these problems are reduced as he has to guard a spot down low, not a man outside where he will reach.

"He's getting the same fouls over and over and they're reaching fouls. He has to play to his size and we keep talking about it, hopefully he'll eventually be able to do it because he was very effective for us and he only got to play 14 minutes." -- UCLA coach Ben Howland on sophomore forward/center Joshua Smith, who had nine points, five rebounds and four fouls in Saturday's loss to the Wildcats.

3. Anyone remember the last time we played Washington State? The key to the game was Howland reluctantly going to a zone that we had not practiced in weeks.

The Bruins (13-10, 6-5) were down 34-29 at the half, due in part to Motum. But they dropped into a zone, and that was the difference.

"Our zone defense really helped us today," Howland said. "(Washington State was) trying to screen high. Jerime (Anderson) did a good job fighting over the top of those screens. ... Both their bigs, Motum and Lodwick, are such good perimeter shooters it's hard to match up."

With 11:40 left, the Cougars led 49-45. But they scored only one basket in nearly 9 minutes. During that span, the Bruins outscored Washington State 13-2 and took a 58-51 lead with 4:49 left.

Will Howland play zone a lot on Thursday night or be stubborn? The evidence is overwhelming he needs to do so. If he is not willing to adapt to the needs of his team, will any recruits make a difference and change the downward arc of UCLA over the last four years?

Go Bruins.

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