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The Worst Is Yet To Come: Ben Howland's Bruins Bracing For An Ugly Finish

With a total of 2 mins for Bobo Morgan and Mike Moser against Oregon on Saturday afternoon, UCLA head coach Ben Howland sent a pretty clear message concerning rest of the season. He is not going to make any changes to the core of his rotation rest of this season. Seems pretty clear that he is going to stick with his psychotic reliance on Nikola Dragovic which is reaching borderline insanity, and he will most likely continue to go with Jerime Anderson in crunch time even though in his two seasons he has yet to prove himself as Pac-10 caliber defensive guard.

The whole sad scenario is shaping up to get even uglier this week as the Bruins get ready to play an Arizona team which is going to be looking for a strong finish heading into the Pac-10 tourney. The Wildcats are coming back home on a high note after pulling off a road win in Stanford. Just how insane was Howland's decision to stick with DRagO on Saturday? Consider the following quote from the OC Register:

"My parents came to Thursday’s game and one of my shoulders popped out," said Dragovic, who surprisingly didn’t have a rain cloud hanging a few inches above his head. "I came back, got a shot before the game and was feeling a little better. I could raise my arm above my shoulder. And then two minutes before the game starts I step on the ball…it happens."

Nikola is not expected to practice until Wednesday at the earliest.

I hope Nikola feels physically healthy soon but then again his head coach will most likely keep playing him 30 something mins a game. Meanwhile just what would you do if you were in Bobo Morgan's shoes? Let's see you work your rear end off the entire off-season (arguably making the most physical improvement among your team-mates). By all accounts it looks like you are doing everything you can to be attentive on game days, by supporting and cheering your team-mates and paying close attention instead of looking disinterested. When you get called upon for your first big minutes, you put together a solid game against Washington State. Yet, your head coach rewards you by giving you 2 minutes and instead with going with an one armed scrub, who can't shoot even when he is healthy and has never cared about playing defense and giving effort on the court. 

So yeah what exactly would you do if you were Bobo? I wouldn't blame you if you were looking to get out of Westwood as soon as you get the chance and make us miss you like we are all missing Chace Stanback right about now. If this is not a direct example of doing everything to run a kid out of the program, I am not sure what is. More on the sorry state of Howland's team after the jump.

On the injury front it's unclear whether Reeves Nelson will be back:

Nelson was shooting baskets before Saturday’s game but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his return to game-action is imminent.

"He’s going to be re-evaluated on Wednesday," UCLA coach Ben Howland said of Nelson. "He is only allowed right now to ride a bike. He can’t do anything with too much exertion because of the blood pressure behind the eye. He can shoot. He can ride a bike. That’s what he’s been doing."

And Michael Roll sounds totally deflated as Gold described him as "Morbid. Stoic. Almost...sad," following Saturday's loss:

"It was hectic and we were pressing," UCLA senior forward Michael Roll said. "We were fighting back, we were down and couldn't just get over the hump. They had the right intentions, they were just pushing too much trying to get it to the hoop.
"Just unfortunate."

Can't blame him when his head coach hasn't been doing much to put him and his team in position to win or bothering to change his approach or rotation to inject a modicum of enthusiasm heading into rest of the season.

As for their next opponent Arizona is coming off a bit of a high even though prior to its Stanford win, it had lost 5 of its previous 6 games.  The way Sean Miller's team pulled out the victory against Stanford is especially striking considering what we have gone through our season with Howland's inexplicable rotation(s) (emphasis added):

With upperclassmen Nic Wise and Jamelle Horne on the bench in the final critical possessions, newcomers delivered in the clutch.

Freshman center Derrick Williams, who tied the game by hitting one of two free throws with 30 seconds left, blocked a dunk try by Stanford's Jack Trotter with five seconds left. Sophomore guard Brendon Lavender grabbed the rebound and passed to freshman MoMo Jones, who banked in a 15-foot shot just before the buzzer to win it.

What is even more striking is if you look through Arizona's season stats. 4 of their freshmen - Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Lamont Jones - are in team's top-8 in minutes played. Their 5th freshmen - Kyryl Natyazhko - is 10th on the team averaging 11.8 mins per game.  Compared this to Howland's rotation this season. Natyazhko averages more than Brendan Lane, who is now up to 8.8 mins a game  (due to increased mins following Keefe's injury) and still got benched during crunch time even though he was putting together his best game in a Bruin uniform.  Again, I wonder if Mike Moser has been thinking what would have happened if he stuck with his commitment to Arizona.

I don't have any hope for Thursday night. I guess the only intangible that might be going our way is that we are not expected to win and that it might be a little different than our previous debacle against 'Zona since this time we are going to play a zone. However, this team sounds deflated and demoralized and it looks like Howland will most likely stick with his putrid rotation which has resulted in almost total unraveling of his program in his seventh season in Westwood. We should all be bracing for an ugly finish this week and beyond. The worst is yet to come.