UCLA beat Colorado on the road for arguably its best win of the season. UCLA is now in sole possession of first place in the PAC 12 and likely to be ranked after the first of the year for the first time since 2009. On the one hand this feels good, on the other hand four years is a long time to wait and this season only recently became "fun." I think CBS has it about right:
They were the laughingstock of the nation just a few days after we all carved up the turkey. Ben Howland's UCLA Bruins had lost to Cal Poly in Pauley Pavilion -- and we all started to speculate on how much longer the man who took the program to three consecutive Final Fours would last in Westwood.
Fast forward 48 days later, and the Bruins are among the hottest teams in the nation.Shabazz Muhammad is in shape, Josh Smith and his weight issues have departed to Georgetown -- and UCLA has reeled off nine consecutive wins, including four in a row to open Pac-12 play.
The latest was a road win at Colorado on Saturday afternoon. It may not seem like much, but this team -- which is admittedly defensively challenged -- has made steady progress and could challenge Arizona for the league title.
This is a different UCLA team. Are the Bruins a national title -- or even a Final Four contender?
Probably not. But they have become fun to watch -- and no one is laughing anymore.
Ideally a good season does not involve starting out as a laughing stock. More on how long it has been:
This is the first time UCLA has won its first two conference road games since 2008-09. The Bruins finished second in the Pac-10 that year, losing to Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But here comes out the hyperbole machine. We are playing good, best since 2008-9 but that does not mean we are "great?" That does not mean UCLA is UCLA worthy. It does mean we are looking like a tournament team. It means we are putting Cal Poly behind us but there is still a long ways to go before we put the last four years behind us.
Let's take arguably the most shocking part of the weekend run, Travis Wear's play. He is a good player, a tough matchup for most fives but is he:
Travis Wear is the best 15-foot jump shooter in the country. I felt that way heading into Saturday, and I'm even more convinced of it after Wear scored 23 points, hitting 11-17 from the floor, as the Bruins went into Boulder and knocked off Colorado, 78-75.
I have been saying for a while he is not the same as his brother(emphasis mine) and is a good player .
For the second straight game, forward Travis Wear kept UCLA afloat against furious rallies. The Bruins (14-3, 4-0) couldn't have extended their winning streak to nine games without his recent emergence, the 6-foot-10 junior becoming a frighteningly automatic weapon from 15 feet out. . . .
At the very least, Travis has clearly distinguished himself from his twin. David Wear ended the mountain trip with four field goal attempts, finishing with one make. He has yet to play more than 20 minutes in conference play after eclipsing the mark in the prior seven games.
There was a stretch within the game's last six minutes that was essentially captured the Wears in microcosm. Colorado was in the midst of a 7-0 run, and - as UCLA double-teamed the perimeter - found Josh Scott alone in the post against David Wear. Scott couldn't find the bucket, but Xavier Johnson streaked in for a rebound and drew the foul against David, who finished with two points.
Two possessions later, Travis Wear cut short the Buffs' streak and scored UCLA's next nine points, starting with three-point play helped by Jordan Adams' heady pass in transition.
Travis is very good if you leave him alone or if he is matchuped with a center who does not like to leave the paint. He was the hero of the weekend. But I am not sure if he is even the best 15 foot jumper shooter on the team(Jordan Adams maybe), as this is a good shooting team:
Stat of the game: The Bruins shot 51.7 percent from the field, marking the fifth time in the past seven games that they have shot over 50 percent. That performance came despite Muhammad, UCLA's leading scorer for the season, shooting only 6-of-16 (37.5 percent) from the field. Muhammad was 9-of-29 (31 percent) on the two-game road trip, but UCLA showed its scoring depth by winning both games.
Travis benefits and to his credit took advantage of the fact he is the third shooting option and team's have to pick their poison. But it can be argued the special players on this team are the three freshman;
But as Colorado continued to push and push on its home court Saturday, cutting into UCLA's one-time double-digit lead, it was UCLA's freshmen trio that stood firm in the game's final moments. The Bruins held on by a thread for the second time in three days for a 78-75 victory - their ninth in a row.
With UCLA up by four with just under a minute remaining, freshman Kyle Anderson delivered the first blow in front of the Buffaloes' raucous crowd, knocking down two free throws to extend the lead to six. Then it was Jordan Adams' turn, as he hit 1 of 2 from the stripe to keep Colorado at arm's length. And after Shabazz Muhammad made one of his two free throws on the next trip down, Adams redeemed himself for the miss on the following possession, hitting the game's final, clinching free throws with just eight ticks left on the clock.
With the game on the line, it was the Bruins' young core that would carry the burden of a taxing mental challenge. And with a final missed 3-pointer from Colorado's Askia Booker - a play that almost mirrored Utah's final missed shot Thursday night - it was UCLA's freshmen that boldly dismissed the notion that their inexperience would hamper them on the road, beating a team that had yet to lose on its home court all season.
"Hitting big free throws down the stretch is huge," said Anderson, who finished with his second double-double in four games. "I think it's a big step in our career. We're shooting toward the crowd. Mentally, you've got to be tough to do it."
So is this UCLA team the best in five years? Right now it looks that way, that is enough to make some people feel giddy. But if Howland finishes the season getting to and losing at his first sweet 16 in five years will UCLA fans be happy? More importantly, why should they be? While today Howland can feel giddy, he needs to do more. Howland needs everyone feeling giddy at the end of the season.
The collective primal scream that burst through UCLA's locker room door said a lot Saturday. The way Coach Ben Howland barreled through his postgame opening statement said more.
Howland was giddy. Yes, giddy.
"He's happy," forward Travis Wear said. "We all are. We're where we want to be." . . .
The postgame scream was "a private team thing," Howland said. But not a regularly scheduled event.
"Coach gets everyone together, brings the young guys up front and we yell," Wear said. "We do it after big wins."
I hope there are happy screams in April or else there are going to be screams of goodbye to Howland. This morning feels good but I need more to feel good about the long term health of the program after the last four years.