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Want to Dance? BYU or Bust

How dire is the situation for the Pac- 10?  As the Orange County Register writes in a caption  "Because of the Pac-10 woes, Coach Ben Howland and UCLA might be in a must-win situation when they face BYU at the Wooden Classic at Honda Center" to this article which Ben Howland tries to dismiss in a defense of the PAC 10:

"I don't think it will be the last ranked team we play this year," Howland said.

Ah, CBH, who would that be?  The Pac-10 has no one in the top 25.  After BYU, UCLA next best out of conference opponent is . . . CHP's St. John's.   I realize that CBH wants to defend the Pac-10 but that is getting tougher by the day.

Part of the problem with the Pac-10 many would allege is the lack of seniors.  While the hot nearby San Diego State has five seniors on its roster, the same article points out the Pac-10 is lacking seniors.  As a result, the Wooden Classic game against #16 BYU is looking like a must win:

Actually, there are just 16 seniors playing in the conference this season. UCLA, Stanford and Washington State do not have a senior on their rosters. . . .

Time and options are running out for the Bruins. UCLA can earn an automatic NCAA Tournament berth by winning the Pac-10 Tournament. Or it can win the regular season title. But based on the season so far, the conference shouldn't expect more than the two tournament berths the NCAA granted the Pac-10 last March.

This means if UCLA is to have any hope of an at-large berth it probably needs to win Saturday.

CBH seems to agree on the lack of upperclassman:

"These games matter so much in November, when you're barely getting going and out of your first 20, 25 practices," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It really is an advantage to have an experienced team of upperclassmen to return."

Cal Coach Mike Montgomery summed up the Pac-10:

"Everybody's had a loss or two that would raise an eyebrow."

So I guess the good news is the Pac-10 stinks and the bad news is the Pac-10 stinks.  UCLA needs to beat BYU to realistically have a shot at the Tournament without winning the conference outright or the Pac-10 Tournament.  Back in Coach's day winning the conference was the ONLY way into the tournament. However beating BYU would make things much easier.

More good news for UCLA as the season goes on is the development of Josh Smith.  The old joke that the good thing about freshman is they become sophomores seems to apply to Smith in the experience part at least.  At the recent Pac-10 coaches' media day, CBH raved about Smith:

"His big thing is getting in better, better condition for him to play more minutes," Howland said. "He's got unbelievable hands. His hands are just incredilble. ... He has to learn to play lower and not so erect. He's really going to be a good player when you consider he's just a freshman right now."

Is it possible to say Josh Smith without using the word "big?"   The UCLA frontline of Smith, Honeycutt, Nelson and Lane will be the big advantage over BYU Saturday.  BYU will likely be without two of their bigs on Saturday.

The Bruins have possibly the biggest front court the Cougars have seen to date this year. . . .

If both Noah Hartsock and Chris Collinsworth are unable to go, the Cougars could find themselves in a difficult situation. With just Brandon Davies and James Anderson as available bigs on the inside, BYU could find itself very thin, especially if Davies continues his trend of picking up fouls.

For UCLA this may be a throw back game to the Wooden era in style.  On offense to win, UCLA needs it to be a big man's game:  pound it inside, win the battle of the boards and draw fouls.  BYU will want to hit threes and be led by player of the week in All-America Guard Jimmer Fredette.  More on the preview tomorrow. 

While Coach will be represented in part by his great-grandson UCLA walk on Tyler Trapani, this will be an especially poignant Wooden Classic:

Howland said taking part in the Wooden Classic without Wooden in attendance was "really going to be difficult," though he liked having a link to the venerable coach on the bench.

"It's really special for me to have that Wooden blood as part of the program," Howland said, "because it is his program and it will always be."

Go Bruins!