Not a lot of the media folks in the Pac-12 figured on UCLA’s 0-2 start when they forecast the Bruins to win the league basketball championship. But here’s UCLA, bumbling at 0-2 after double-digit losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State.
“We’ve got to find a way to win a game,” Ben Howland, the Bruins coach, told reporters after the MTSU thumping.
Well, here’s a solution: The Bruins get Chaminade in their opener of the rugged Maui Invitational next week. Then again, Chaminade’s opener in that tournament is always a crusade for the host school, and if UCLA loses that one, Howland may order his guys to take catamarans home. A win gets them a berth opposite the Georgetown-Kansas winner in the semifinals.
Last week, the Sports Illustrated jinx took it to new heights. Bruins forward Reeves Nelson was on our regional cover of the magazine, and after UCLA’s opening loss, he was suspended for poor conduct. I was told by a longtime observer of the program that it’s been a long series of insolent behavior on Nelson’s part, not just the lateness for a team meeting and absence from practice Sunday. Nelson has been reinstated to the team and was due to resume practicing Thursday.
The Bruins are practicing elsewhere while Pauley Pavilion is being renovated, and playing some games at the Sports Arena — and apparently not taking to it.
On the floor, the guard play has been terrible, especially on defense. Astonishingly, they’ve allowed 20 threes in 26 attempts in the two losses.
Guard Lazeric Jones is 3 for 20 from the field.
After three straight Final Four appearances from 2006-08, the Bruins have leveled off, at least by their standards, winning two NCAA games the past three seasons. Still, unless this one turns into a real disaster, it’s not believed Howland is in any serious danger. Athletic director Dan Guerrero, in fact, may hardly be noticing; he’s got his hands full with a roller-coaster football program and coach Rick Neuheisel.