So Ben Howland's number 23 ranked (feel the excitement!) Bruins (22-7, 11-4 in the conference) are in Pullman tonight to take on a really bad Washington State basketball team. The Cougars are having a terrible season. They have had their share of decent teams in the past - notably under Tony Bennett in recent years when they had a program that was basically a poor man's version of "Ben Ball Warriors." I used to enjoy watching the tough, gritty battles between Howland's teams in his first five years vs. those Bennett teams because both teams would play tough, hard-nosed but clean games grounded in defense and fundamentals.
Those days are long gone. Howland's teams these days have no defensive identity, not much commitment to rebounding and they basically play an "offensive"-oriented game that is offensive and often ugly to watch. Meanwhile, the Cougars (11-18) are mess. They are the worst team (2-14) in what is a pathetic Pac-12 conference. There is not much use to go into discussing the strategery around a game which the Bruins should dominate to get them set up for what should be (finally) a comfortable win against a poorly coached Huskies team in Seattle this weekend.
To provide some numbers Bruins haven't lost to the Cougars in Pullman since 1993. They have a 19 game winning streak against the Cougars on their home court. So losing this game tonight would be worse than losing to Cal Pol (or any other ugly losses in Howland era --- well there are too many of them to list at this point). So on that note here are some reads on another exciting "game day" for UCLA basketball.
- Let's start with recruiting. You want to know how dire and desperate the state of UCLA basketball recruiting is? Well take a look at this tweet from Coach JD Pollock - an assistant coach Central Arizona Junior College. Howland's crack recruiting staff has offered Dre Mathieu, a 5-9, 160 point guard out of junior college - who no one from the recruiting circles really knows about. Keep in mind we don't have any true pg recruit committed to our class next year. UCLA has failed to recruiting a single elite pg recruit out of high school since 2007 (when Jrue Holiday and Jerime Andersen committed to the Bruins). So we are going into year 6 of Howland operating a basketball program without bringing in an elite pg recruit out of high school. Beyond surreal.
- Going back to our current program Peter Yoon from ESPNLA is really excited about Howland's "rising Bruins." Yoon is fired up about how "UCLA has fought its way back to the category of NCAA tournament sleeper." Just like those Lavin's teams we are gonna be a tough out this March! NCAA 5 seed here we come!!
- Meanwhile, in the LA Times Chris Foster writes about how Howland is "wary" about taking on the worst program in the conference, which hasn't beaten UCLA on its home court in last 19 years. Think about it - we didn't lose to the Cougars even with Lavin.
- Speaking of Howland, apparently he regrets for saying the obvious - Shabazz is not coming back to Westwood next season. Not sure what the big deal is here. No one here is holding their breath over 'Bazz. Frankly, none of us are all that emotionally invested about an obvious decisions from someone who is making a pit stop in Westwood before collecting his NBA paychecks. This is a little different than worrying about the decisions of someone like AA or JF, guys who lead the rebuilding of an elite program in dire straits and leaving a legacy (before Howland screwed it all up.
Anyway, the tipoff tonight is set for 6:35 PST on Pac-12 Networks (lucky for those folks who have DIRECT TV!). If you have the network, use the mute button or turn on something else (you can music recommendation in the thread) because Ted Robinson and Ernie Kent are scheduled to blabber around with the usual coach apologist talking points served up athletic departments of both schools.
Anyway, it's March baby. Feel it. We are going all the way! We are going to hang a Final-4 banner (take that JF) in that beautiful OPUG.