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Washington Trip: Can UCLA Breakthrough?

Can Josh Smith and the Bruins rise to the occasion this week? Photo: <a href="" target="new">b d</a>
Can Josh Smith and the Bruins rise to the occasion this week? Photo: b d

The excitement after last Saturday's memorable ("perfect") game has been palpable in Bruin Nation. You can get a sense of the anticipation around UCLA basketball in the comment threads from last few days. gbruin tried to bring some perspective and Patroclus laid out the precise scenarios for getting our dance ticket punched.

As excitement is building around Thursday night's game I will try to reconcile my two previous front-page posts going over the possible scenarios for UCLA hoops in our last remaining regular season games. After our win over Arizona, Bruins now have ensured themselves at least a 3-3 finish ("the B scenario") heading into a very difficult road trip against Washington schools.  We will be "okay" with that finish but it will mean nervous time during the Pac-10 tournament.

It might not be the end of the world though. If we end the season with a 2 game losing streak and then stumble in the first round, we think the Bruins will still sneak into the Dance. Probably not the way we want to start March, but record wise, it will be a step forward from last year. The question that is on my mind is whether the Bruins can breakthrough this road trip with at least 1 win? All we need is 1 win for this breakthrough but it is not going to be easy.

Why am I talking about a possible 2 game losing streak? That brings me back to last front-page post I wrote about an expected Bruin "slaughter" in Seattle. The post generated amusing and bewildered reactions. I don't blame any of you for pushing back hard on that front. But the possibility is on our minds. May be I am playing the role of Yang while DC is doing the Ying part. lol But I am having a hard time feeling confident with this Bruin bunch even after Saturday's euphoric win.

I can't forget about the track record of entire season, which is peppered with less than 40 minutes of good basketball.  Hard for me to be confident when the Bruins are going to be playing 5 on 8 in Seattle (there will be more on that).  Even the great Howland teams of recent years didn't get it done in Hec Ed. How can these guys who haven't been able to put together 40 mins of good basketball on the road, get it done? After Washington, we will be faced with a WSU program, which might be fighting for its tourney chances following their big win in Seattle. The Cougars are due against the Bruins as they haven't beaten us in Pullman in last 17 years (!).

The challenge ahead of us is immense. What is making me anxious is that the Bruins do have the opportunity to take the "next step" beyond the minimal improvement we were looking for this season (making the dance). Bruins had a golden opportunity to take that "next step" in two road games this season - @ Kansas and @Cal. If we had won both of those games, we would be sitting pretty with a record of 24-6 and possibly in the conversation for a 3 seed out West. If we had played 40 minutes of good basketball in those games, the dynamic heading into this road trip would be something different.

I don't want to belabor the lost opportunities though. I want to throw up the idea that the Bruins now have an opportunity - especially this Thursday night - to really take another step towards relevance during the Howland era at UCLA. Washington is down right now. Their crowd is going to be out for blood - especially against Josh Smith. We are not going to catch a break from the refs. If the Bruins can somehow pull out a win in this game or the next one (which will be just as difficult), there will not be any lingering doubts about the progress of this program.

To sum it up, the Bruins have a huge opportunity to erase doubts this week just by getting a split.  Finishing the last 6 games with a 3-3 record will be OKAY, but it will make all of us feel hell of a lot better if we can close it out either on a 5-1 or 4-2 note.

Can the Bruins break through?