Unlike the football team, the UCLA basketball team isn’t afforded the luxury of a chartered airplane.
Toting a much smaller roster, coach Ben Howland’s Bruins are left to fly commercially with the masses. This makes for a lot of uncertainty, especially when trying to reach a remote destination like Pullman, Wash., where UCLA will face Washington State today.
One year, the team was forced to fly into nearby Lewiston, Idaho because of weather.
Whatever the means of transportation, the Bruins have escaped The Palouse with a win in each of the last 19 seasons. The streak spans three coaches and Howland doesn’t want to be the first since Jim Harrick to surrender a loss at Beasley Coliseum. He has already become the first to lose to the Cougars at Pauley Pavilion.
None of the Bruins’ four touted freshmen were alive the last time a UCLA team lost to Washington State, on Feb. 6, 1993.
How has such a phenomenon occurred?
“A lot of luck,” said Howland, who has seen two games in eastern Washington go to overtime during his tenure. “It’s going to end. I just don’t want it to be (today). Let’s not try to jinx it. We’ve been very fortunate.”
Fortune has not been kind to the Cougars (11-18, 2-14 Pac-12) recently, as they find themselves at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. Conversely, the Bruins (22-7, 12-4) are tied for first place with Oregon.
UCLA has already guaranteed itself a top-three seed and a first-round bye for next weekend’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, but the Bruins could also earn a share of the Pac-12’s regular season crown with a sweep of the Washington schools this weekend.
Oregon plays at Colorado and Utah this week and can claim the tournament’s No. 1 seed with two wins. The Ducks own the tiebreaker over the Bruins by way of a 76-67 win at Pauley Pavilion in January.
UCLA’s players maintain that they won’t be caught looking past the lowly Cougars.
“We just have to play our game and control what we can control, not fall into the trap of their record,” said freshman guard Kyle Anderson, who on Monday was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the first time.
The No. 23 Bruins appear to be playing some of their best basketball of the season, hopping back into the top 25 last week for the first time since January after sweeping the Arizona schools with ESPN’s College GameDay on hand.
Redshirt senior guard Larry Drew II doesn’t see a letdown coming in his last conference road trip.
“We have to stay level headed, poised and trust in ourselves and everything will be OK,” Drew said.