Monday, October 23

Bruins enter new era of uncertainty

UCLA's inexplicable fall from top level in college basketball makes Final Four memories seem distant

Moments after yet another defeat, UCLA coach Ben Howland was remembering the two disastrous turnovers his team committed down the stretch Saturday against Oregon. He was talking about the two separate plays when sophomore guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson threw careless passes that sailed out of bounds, when it felt like the Bruins were literally handing the game over to the Ducks.

The Bruins eventually did just that, losing 70-68 in their final home game of this difficult season. Those two passes were perhaps the most costly errors of the game.

When he remembered them, Howland repeated one word.


Sounds like a pretty good way to sum up this Bruin season.

I mean, there are explanations for the Bruins’ abrupt fall. You can look to recruiting, or player development, or coaching, and find an argument for why the Bruins have stumbled so quickly from the top echelon of college basketball.

But none of those explanations are especially convincing. Seriously, is there really any way to explain just how bad the Bruins have been at times this year?

Losses to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State?

A total lack of effort at home against USC?

A 31-point drubbing at Washington?

And then Saturday, with those two throwaway passes in crunch time?

It all points to what’s become extremely apparent in these recent months: UCLA basketball has entered an era of uncertainty.

Those Final Four memories are fading fast. We were reminded of that Saturday, when seniors Michael Roll, Nikola Dragovic, James Keefe and Mustafa Abdul-Hamid appeared in Pauley for the last time. Those were the last players remaining from the 2006, 2007, 2008 teams, which dominated college basketball with intense man-to-man defense and a fluid offense.

Now the Bruins run a flimsy zone defense, and their offense is essentially dysfunctional.

I think there is a case to be made that Howland could bounce back. Forward Tyler Honeycutt is one of the most talented freshmen in the country. And there’s always the promise of big improvements from some of the other young guys on the Bruin team, or big impacts from next season’s freshman class.

My point is that none of that is for sure.

UCLA fans have lost that luxury. They can no longer count on the Bruins being a Pac-10 contender or a factor in the national title discussion.

Saturday showcased that. Even this late in the season, the Bruins struggled with basic fundamentals. They showed poor shot selection. They were dominated on the offensive glass. And, in the most important moments of the game, they lost focus.

Perhaps the best question anyone asked Howland afterward was not about the game itself, but about his willingness to enter the postseason National Invitational Tournament.

He said he is not thinking about that right now, but he’ll probably need to sometime soon.

I’m not trying to spoil things for the eternal optimists, those still clinging to the hope that the Bruins will pull off some magic in the Pac-10 Tournament.

At this point I just think it’s more reasonable to look at the big picture.

Roll has been the team’s most valuable player this year (by far), but his time is almost up. Same goes for Dragovic and Keefe.

Now the burden falls to the younger set of players, namely Honeycutt, Lee and freshman forward Reeves Nelson. There are a lot of questions about UCLA basketball right now, and those guys are the ones who will eventually have to provide the answers.

E-mail Allen at [email protected]

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