UCLA Basketball: Trying To Understand The Bruins


Even Shabazz doesn’t know what to think of this team. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve stuck around Go Joe Bruin long enough, then you’ve noticed that there’s been a struggle to identify this UCLA basketball team.

It’s difficult to characterize the kind of season the Bruins are having. Twenty-one games into the season, no one’s quite sure what this team is about, and no one’s at all sure if this UCLA hoops team is for real.

The times were much simpler after UCLA’s loss to Cal Poly. At the time, it seemed clear that the Bruins were destined for failure, that the team wouldn’t bounce back and that Howland was on the verge of getting fired either midseason or by the end of it all.

Of course, UCLA went on a ten-game win streak to give fans hope — false or not — and though much of those wins were low-quality (save for the last game of the non-conference schedule against Missouri), it was somewhat clear that this team had turned their season around.

A loss against a now-top-10 Oregon team didn’t entirely derail the Bruins’ season, but it was one UCLA had to have to declare themselves as a legitimate contender both in-conference and nationally.

No one had to wait too long before UCLA could try to put themselves on the map, though, with a win over then-sixth-ranked Arizona following the devastating loss to the Ducks. In perhaps their most complete game of the season, the Bruins dominated the Wildcats like no other team had done prior. A wire-to-wire win led college hoops pundits nationwide to declare the Bruins “back” from their four-year slumber and ready to kick ass and take names.

That lasted less than 48 hours.

Because the Bruins would put up a stinker against Arizona State, a team that’s good, but nowhere near the level of top-15 and perhaps (maybe, with a bit of luck) a top-25 squad. Coming off a dominant win over the ‘Cats, it was only fair to assume that UCLA would win this game, business as usual, and earn its place among college basketball’s elite.

But UCLA didn’t come to play and, without Travis Wear, were seemingly a far lesser team, 20 points worse than the Sun Devils.

It’s true that it’s difficult to come away with an Arizona road sweep, especially when both Arizona and Arizona State are teams probably worthy of top-25 distinction. It’s true that David Wear and Tony Parker are not good defenders down low and it’s true that ASU fully exploited that fact.

But elite teams don’t rely on guys like Travis Wear to win games the way they do, and teams don’t dominate a top-10 team one night and lose to an OK squad the next. Elite teams don’t get blown out, don’t lose the rebounding battle by 20 less boards, and they sure as hell don’t shoot 37 percent from the floor, all of which were things UCLA did vs. Arizona State.

We’re 21 games into this season, one in which there is no clearly-dominant team, and we can’t figure out if this team will be “just fine” by the time the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments roll around. The likelihood of UCLA sticking it to college basketball’s finest teams or mailing it in against decent ones is 50/50 on both counts.

From here on out, UCLA is teetering between elite and middling status, and there’s no clear indication as to which way the needle is leaning towards.

The games will be played and we’ll find out more about this team, but with 11 contests left, the Bruins better find themselves some consistency faster than they’d like.