However, despite the panic — and upset stomach — that UCLA students, fans and alum are currently experiencing, it’s unfair to assume that we won’t win the Pac-12 tournament this year, thus earning us a spot to the Big Dance in March.
Quite the gutsy assumption, all things considered.
Because, despite our inconsistency, there’s no reason to believe we can’t keep up with the top teams in the conference. That’s not saying much since the Pac-12 is really crappy, but stay with me here, dawg.
Our only losses in conference play — let’s forget about losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee Something Whatever University — have come in the final minutes of the second half. Leads held be damned. (And we’ve had late-game leads, for damn sure.)
When we opened up conference play at Stanford? We lost by two. The game against Cal shortly after? We lost by a bunch, yes, but we held our own for 75 percent of the contest (we were within single digits with 13 minutes left in the game). The losses to Oregon State and Oregon? We couldn’t avoid those epic collapses late on the road, where we kept within three points for the better part of the last three minutes against Oregon, and where we never trailed by more than seven points in the final ten minutes. And the loss against Washington? We held a ten-point lead over the Huskies in the final five minutes of the game.
The point is, we’ve been in positions to win games over and over. And while “being competitive” isn’t exactly a great consolation prize, it’s not something that calls for us to throw in the towel this season. (Learned helplessness is never productive, but some other “blogs” in the UCLA blogosphere haven’t quite learned this yet.)
We can blame the coaching, sure. Ben Howland is far too damn stubborn to let his men on the floor play zone and he’s way too conservative on offense at times. Some of those late-game mistakes are on him, but quite a few are also on the players — they’re not very good at keeping their composure consistent for 40 solid minutes. Our backcourt suffers from this a ton — Jerime Anderson has never been the clutch type — and the frontcourt has issues keeping up defensively. Turnovers are a pretty pervasive problem, but for some reason, the rate seems to skyrocket when the Bruins are trying to close things out.
The point? All the small things matter. Keeping composed, staying fresh and playing smart. UCLA has done that for the better part of the in-conference season. Sadly, that better part does not include the waning moments of games.
A Pac-12 tournament will bode well for us, even if we are stuck having to play on the road most of the time. Considering just how terrible — like, seriously, guys, it’s really trashy — the Pac-12 is, there isn’t a team UCLA can’t beat.
It’s a matter of composure. Stay cool, guys.