Final UCLA Basketball Roundup: Unable to Get Over the Hump

March 8, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats forward Solomon Hill (44) takes the ball down court as UCLA Bruins forward Travis Wear (24) follows knowing if he gets any closer a foul will be called. Travis fouled out for the first time all year last night. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

There will be plenty of time to discuss the season as we go forward. This roundup will focus on the immediate news and the last game. Of course all the stories are trying to make the loss last night to Arizona into some kind of allegory for the season:

In many ways, UCLA's 66-58 loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament's second round Thursday afternoon was a dead-on reflection of the Bruins' season from hell that preceded it.

The Bruins dug themselves an early hole, continued to reel from self-inflicted wounds, rallied, then just when it appeared they finally had found daylight, they collapsed. They finally were buried for good beneath the wreckage of a season that was a disaster from opening night.

The reality of the game is lost. The Bruins did play outstanding team defense, holding Arizona to under 35% shooting and keep them scoreless from the field for long periods of time. UCLA ended the game without Josh Smith (no surprise) and without Travis Wear (big surprise as he had not really been in foul trouble all year.) But the game was decided in part by three other people:

Instead, it came down to defense and free throws -- lots and lots of 'em by the Wildcats, who won 66-58 in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals Thursday despite going 8 1/2 minutes without a field goal in the second half.

The fourth-seeded Wildcats (22-10) were 24 of 27 from the free-throw line in the second half, and they needed those when their shooting dipped to 30 percent over the final 20 minutes and the Bruins briefly took the lead.

Solomon Hill scored 25 points, Jesse Perry added 16 points and Kyle Foggscored 13. Arizona went 31 of 36 from the line, with Perry making 12 of 13 and Hill 12 of 14. Hill and Perry had 12 rebounds each. "As often is the case in March, you ride the coattails of the individual players playing better than they've played before," Wildcats coach Sean Miller said. "The only thing you have to do is look at the stat sheet and the meaning of Jesse, Solomon and Kyle is immense. These three guys are the heart and soul of our team.". . .

UCLA played the final 11:03 without big man Joshua Smith, who fouled out in nine minutes after totaling seven points and three rebounds. Travis Wear, who had 10 points and six rebounds, fouled out for the first time this season with 2:52 remaining.

As Arizona was the "home team" as the higher seed maybe the referees treated the game like they were in Tucson. The numbers are kind of shocking for this game:

STAT OF THE GAME: Arizona made 31-of-36 free throws (86.1 percent) including 24-of-27 (88.9 percent) in the second half. The Wildcats scored all but 14 of their 37 second-half points from the free-throw line and had only six points from the field in the final 16:25. They did not make a field goal in the final 4:43.

UCLA, meanwhile, got to the free-throw line only 16 times and shot 62.5% (10-of-16). UCLA's front line players of the Wear twins, Smith and Stover attempted only six combined free throws.

Of course, the referees are not the only reason UCLA lost this game. A lot of credit goes to Hill and Perry (and to Coach Miller) who realized if you drive toward the basket a foul will be called. Also UCLA had another epically bad start in the first half, scoring only 23 points. If UCLA had not put themselves in such a hole, the game would have been different:

"The first half we really started off poorly, turning the ball over," Howland said. "... We had about eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes in the first half. "(We) really didn't handle their pressure well. Their pressure defensively really bothered us." . . .

"Our first half kind of dug a hole for us," Howland said. "We were fighting uphill from the point forward."

After the game came some other news. Smith is coming back and saying the right things. Of course the key will be not in what Smith says but in what kind of shape he comes back in next year.

UCLA's hopes for a ticket to the NCAA Tournament may have been stomped out, but Bruins fans got a bit of good news as Smith said he would return for his junior season. Smith said he would address the weight issues that have plagued him since arriving in Westwood, and he said he's ready to start working now.

"There's no way I'll ever leave on a note like that," Smith said. "Whenever I leave, I want to make sure we go out with a bang and I go out like a bang.
"Nothing like this."

Now that the NCAA Tournament is out of the picture, the Bruins may go to the NIT. Interesting that is in doubt because of their record but the Bruins will apparently not going to the other lower tier tournaments, ones that Jerime Anderson did not even know the name of.

"If we have the opportunity to play in the postseason in the NIT, we would accept," Howland said. "It's something that I want for our players. So yeah, no question, we would not snub our nose at the opportunity to play in the NIT."

UCLA last played in the NIT in 1986 and lost to UC Irvine, 80-74, in the first round. They won the NIT in 1985.

The CBI and the CIT are other postseason tournaments that could court UCLA (19-14), but it's not likely the 11-time national champion Bruins would accept an invite to either of those lower-tier events even after missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons.

"Coach Howland already spoke to us after the game and I don't know if we would go to any of those other tournaments," said senior guard Jerime Anderson, who said he did not know the names of the other tournaments.

So we have some pride but not a lot? I am not sure what this means. I do like the fact this team fought to the end and never gave up. But the Arizona game showed again how UCLA was really missing a go-to-guy (one Solomon Hill type leader and UCLA beats Arizona and wins how many close games this year?), As a group, the players never gave up on the season. A lot of credit goes to the players but to the coaches? This is not a good situation for UCLA to be in and that is on the AD and coach.

"I don't feel like many teams could have went through what we went through without breaking apart," senior captain Lazeric Jones said. "It shows the type of character that this team has that we came out and were able to fight for each other. That's one thing we can hold our heads up about."

Moral victories don't really count at UCLA, though. For the season to end without a berth in the NCAA tournament can be described as nothing but a failure at a school that has won 11 national titles, was ranked No. 17 in the nation to start the season and was picked to win the Pac-12 but finished fifth.

This brings up a larger discussion on Howland and Dan Guerrero. While Bruins Nation's position is well known that Guerrero needs to go first, Andy Katz brings up an interesting point on how Chianti Dan is again screwing up.

So now that the Bruins are out, athletic director Dan Guerrero must either make a commitment to Ben Howland or move on after the season. He left Howland's situation too open-ended last week. He needs to make a declarative statement, the way Pat Haden did at USC, telling the Los Angeles Times that Kevin O'Neill will be back. If Howland is going to return, Guerrero must make that clear

Go Bruins.

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