Déjà vu all over again for UCLA?

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Ben Howland can’t take much more of this.

UCLA’s miserable 2009-10 season – 14-18 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-10 and losses to the likes of Cal State-Fullerton, Portland and Long Beach State – should’ve been a hiccup. The Bruins had myriad injuries, underwhelming talent and rarely displayed the nasty defense Howland’s teams showcased during his Final Four run of 2006-2008.

So what’s changed? Howland added a pair of heralded recruits (Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb) and the roster is finally healthy.

And still can’t avoid embarrassing losses.

Sunday’s 66-57 setback to Montana shouldn’t have happened. Not at home. Not after the way UCLA played during Thursday’s last-second loss to Kansas. And certainly not against an average Big Sky team. (And to come on a night when cross-town rival USC thumps Texas? Ouch. It’s not sitting well with Bruins fans.)

“The way we played, yeah (it reminded us of last year),” Malcolm Lee told the L.A. Daily News. “Our capabilities, we could’ve played way better. I think we took this team just too lightly. Especially coming off a three-game losing streak. I think it was a hidden feeling that we almost beat Kansas.”

UCLA scored just 28 points in the first half. It made just 31.3 percent of its shots, mostly because it missed nearly 20 layups. The defense disappeared (Montana shot 52 percent from the field) and Tyler Honeycutt, who couldn’t miss against Kansas, connected on just 3 of 12 shots.

“It’s early, but it’s a bad loss, no question,” Howland told the paper. “We have to control our future by having better practices. It’s frustrating that it’s now always a given. This was a nightmare deal.”

Thing is, this feels like another hiccup. The Bruins’ three previous losses were to Villanova, VCU and Kansas, all of which are NCAA tournament teams. They play faster than usual (through seven games, they get about three more possessions than in previous seasons under Howland) and the defense is starting to resemble its old self. Things should work out.

Except … the terrific on-ball defenders Howland used to have aren’t around anymore. Their point guards (Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson) stink. Lee’s a nice complementary player, but not a great option as a scoring guard. Smith killed Kansas’ frontline, but was irrelevant against Montana.

By season’s end, UCLA will probably have 20 wins, but only because the Pac-10 is a good way to boost one’s overall record. Even if the Bruins make the Big Dance, they’re a lock to lose in the first round.

That’s not good enough in UCLA. Howland’s Final Four run undoubtedly earned him another season with the Bruins, but it’ll be one without any room for error.

If he lasts that long.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.

Michigan State’s Tum Tum Nairn battling foot injury

Lourawls Nairn Jr.
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Michigan State has climbed on the back of star senior wing Denzel Valentine early in the season but they’ll undoubtedly need more help as the season goes on if they want to sustain their current top-5 ranking. One of the keys to the Spartans could be the on-going health of sophomore point guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, who is battling a foot injury.

According to a report from Kyle Austin of MLive.com, Nairn has been putting on a protective boot the last few months to help battle plantar fasciitis as the guard has been playing in practices and hasn’t had his minutes reduced in games.

The injury looked like it was hurting Nairn’s early-season play, but he’s been very good in two games at the Wooden Legacy in California this week, so it could be that he’s getting more used to playing through the pain of the injury.

If Nairn is healthy and capable of contributing, he’s a huge boost to Michigan State because he’s one of the fastest players in college basketball and an additional ball handler on the floor. Through six games so far this season, Nairn is averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 assists per game as he’s been one of the team’s best distributors.

Plantar fasciitis can be a tough injury to fight through, so we’ll have to see if this affects Nairn as the season goes along.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A few tournaments are still going on

Justin Jenifer, Charles Jackson
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GAME OF THE DAY: George Washington vs. No. 24 Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m.

Two 6-0 teams clash at the Barclays Center in what could be an important game for NCAA tournament resumes of both teams. The Bearcats picked up their most legitimate win over Nebraska, but the Colonials pose as a more real threat after they beat Virginia at home earlier this season. Cincinnati hasn’t shot the ball well in recent wins, but they’re beating up opponents on the glass and the defense has been solid. George Washington is coming off of a win over Tennessee in which they held off the Volunteers in the second half. The Colonials have lost 20 of their last 23 against ranked opponents, but another win over a top team would look great for them going forward.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 4 Iowa State vs. Illinois, 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

This game is apart of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida as the Illini could desperately use a win after a 3-3 start. Illinois head coach John Groce and his team are feeling the pressure for a big win on a neutral site after falling to North Florida, Providence and Chattanooga earlier in the season. The No. 4 Cyclones easily dispatched Virginia Tech earlier in the event and have found a nice balance on offense with the emergence of senior big man Jameel McKay inside.


  • N0. 2 Maryland has struggled to put away teams early at times this season and they’ll try to change that behavior when they host Cleveland State.
  • Staying in the Big Ten, No. 16 Purdue hosts Lehigh. With a game at Pitt and against New Mexico looming, could this be a trap game for the Boilers?
  • Nebraska and Tennessee take the floor in consolation action at the Barclays Center. The Huskers need someone besides Shavon Shields and Andrew White to step up in the scoring column while Tennessee is getting huge numbers from senior guard Kevin Punter.
  • Two 4-0 teams will meet in Brooklyn as Louisville takes on Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Neither team has faced a significant test this season and this is the Cardinals’ first game away from home.
  • An intriguing night game to keep an eye on is Belmont traveling to BYU (8:00 p.m.). The Bruins are as well-coached as any team in the country and forward Evan Bradds has been playing great ball to start the season. The Cougars don’t have a high scorer like they did in the past, but Kyle Collinsworth is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor and BYU has a lot of weapons around him.
  • UAB and Virginia Tech battle in one of the more intriguing consolation games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses but have a shot to make things better on the trip with a solid win on Saturday.


  • Bryant at Georgetown, 11:00 a.m. (FS2)
  • Bucknell at Penn State , 12:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee-Martin vs. Mississippi State, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Ole Miss at Bradley, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Old Dominion at VCU, 3:00 p.m.
  • Hawaii at Texas Tech, 3:00 p.m.
  • Kent State at Pitt, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • SIU-Edwardsville at Butler, 4:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m.
  • Western Illinois at Creigton, 7:00 p.m.
  • Colorado State vs UTEP, 7:30 p.m.