It's Thursday morning and U.C.L.A. begins their part in the Pac-12 Tournament tonight at 6pm PT and will face the Oregon Ducks, who got by Oregon State last night 88-74. Utah, Colorado, and Stanford all advanced in their first games as well, and they will meet Arizona, Cal, and ASU respectively. You can read DC Bruins excellent Tourney preview here and get other in-depth news and previews of all the Tourney games at the Pac-12 site. But there's really only one game tonight we care about.
The Bruins split with the Ducks this season, with each team winning on the other's floor. The Bruins loss at Old Pauley Under Glass was the wild game that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams missed due to suspension and which saw Bryce Alford score 31, the Wear twins combine for a full court pass and last second 3 to get to OT before former Bruin Mike Moser and his teammates dominated the boards late to secure the victory. In their first matchup 4 weeks prior, the Bruins caught Oregon in the middle of a stretch that saw them lose 8 of 10 and U.C.L.A. escaped Eugene with a 2 point win on a Travis Wear basket with 5 seconds left. The Ducks haven't lost since the end of that down streak, by the way, now having won 8 in a row, including an upset over Arizona.
Both teams bring in identical 23-8 records on the season, and tonight's game will have a lot to say about which team gets a better seed when the brackets for the NCAA Tourney are announced on Sunday. Of course, the Bruins are coming off their worst performance by a mile last Saturday in Pullman against Wash St and will need to find their own game as well as keep the Ducks from dominating the boards again if they want to get to the semifinals of this tournament. Fortunately, it's a Thursday, and the Bruins have been pretty good on Thursdays. Their only Thursday loss this season was to, well, Oregon.
It goes without saying that the Bruins chances tonight go how Anderson and Adams go. They were the team's best players all season long and they continued to gather post season honors this week. After both were named to the All Pac-12 Team on Monday, they were also both named to the USBWA All-District IX Team on Tuesday, and then to the NABC All-District 20 Team on Wednesday. Congrats to both Jordan and Kyle for the honors. (If anyone has any idea what these teams are, let me know).
Our friend Chris Foster wrote a good article about Kyle in yesterday's fish wrap and looked at his mental approach to the game and how that intensity and confidence will help him translate to the pro level where his physical attributes don't clearly fit into a prototypical position.
All of that while carrying a boulder-size chip on his shoulder, one that clears a wide swath when he's rolling.
The chip comes from critics - some real, some perceived.
His gangly 6-foot-9 frame and stop-motion style were said to be ill-suited for major-college basketball and surely for the NBA.
"People doubt me all the time because maybe I'm too slow, maybe I'm not athletically gifted," Anderson said. "I look forward to proving them wrong."
I have to give a lot of credit to our own DC Bruins here, because blogging about basketball hasn't been a lot of fun since the AD hired the current coach, and DC has done the majority of the work for us here on BN this season, and fortunately I have gotten a much much greater appreciation for what Kyle brings as a result of DC's excellent analysis and high praise for Kyle's rare combo of size and skill set.
"When you put the best in the country in one category, guys who are going to go on and have great NBA careers, you have to put Kyle Anderson in that group," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.
Even when UCLA has been at its worst, Anderson has been at his best.
The Bruins played as if they checked their hearts at the door in losses to Utah and Washington State, except for Anderson. He had a career-high 28 points against the Utes, 19 against the Cougars, and was clearly smoldering after both games.
"Kyle has always been more levelheaded about things than me," Anderson Sr. said. "I personally get offended when people say he is not a point guard."
His son shrugs.
"My slow, methodical game wasn't going to work at the college level," Anderson said. And yet, "I pretty much do whatever I want on the court this season."
We are watching Kyle's final games in a Bruin uniform, and I hope everyone takes time to appreciate what a unique and valuable player he has been for the Bruins.
And speaking of uniforms, U.C.L.A. will go into the game tonight with a new look as they put on the new Made In March alternate uniforms from Adidas. You can see the unis in Menelaus' article and read the thoughts of the BN community here. While these aren't the disaster that last year's post season special, I'd always prefer our traditional units come tournament time. But I'd also agree that the Bruins have bigger problems with defense and rebounding than they do with their look these days. If the Bruins have an abbreviated run in Las Vegas, it won't be because of their clothes.
Even a loss tonight shouldn't keep U.C.L.A. out of the Big Dance and Oregon is probably safely in, too. But the Arizona schools are the only other likely sure things from the Pac-12, so this tournament carries a lot of weight for teams like Colorado, Stanford, and Cal. Foster (he's a busy guy) at the LAT looked at the Pac-12 basketball resume and the picture is muddy at best. Some people who should know better maintain that the conference was very balanced this year.
"This is the deepest, most competitive, well-balanced our league has been since I have been here," Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek said. "Our talent level is good. The coaching around the league is excellent. It is really a top-flight conference when comes to basketball right now."
Well, uh, Herb, ummm...no. What you call "balanced", I call mediocrity. I've watched UCLA basketball for almost 30 years, and I can assure you that our team is neither deep nor balanced, and ours is the second best team in the whole conference. Coaching "excellent"? Bone, Monty, Enfield, Romar, Robinson (he's the president's brother-in-law, you know), Dawkins? That's half the league that makes Alford almost look decent by comparison. And the nation agrees with me. Aside from the standard, no Pac-12 teams are even ranked in the top 25 as we head into Selection Sunday. That does not bode well for the conferences seedings, locations, and chances of advancing very far. While Pac-12 coaches are dreaming of 8 seeds, 5 or 6 looks more realistic, and only Arizona will have a friendly path to even the Sweet 16.
Top flight conference? We wish we had a top flight team right now.
Of course, we used to. In a reminder of those days, there was a nice video that came out yesterday from ThePostGame.com featuring a popular father-son duo, Bruins Marques and Kris Johnson. The two talk about their playing days and how their relationship made them better players and led to a lot of parallels in their respective careers. It's worth a watch.
Kris was a part of the 1995 team with Ed O'Bannon and Tyus Edny and crew that brought home our last basketball title, and that win came 20 years after his father Marques helped Coach win his final title. But now it's been 19 years since that magical run in 1995, Kris reportedly now entices Bruin players to leave school early, and his dad reads the press releases from the Morgan Center as an announcer. I guess I'll focus on the happy memories of the old day and try not to think where this program is right now.
Those days haven't faded entirely. The Bruins still carry some weight of reputation, as we were listed by a national blog along with the likes of Duke and Kentucky and Carolina and Kansas as one of the Ten Best Basketball Schools to Obsess Over. Nice, but the closing paragraph on the Bruins carries some weighty caveats.
It's the many disappointments over the past decade that have hindered the status of the program. While UCLA is certainly an elite program in a favorable location, the team needs more consistency in its players and coaches to join the ranks of the Kentuckys and Dukes of the NCAA.
The Bruins have an elite history and legacy in college basketball like no other school, but we are clearly not an elite program at this time. I think we all know where the problems lie. U.C.L.A. has a chance to take a step back toward that elite level tonight, but how much confidence does anyone have that this team and this coaching staff will get that done?