The UCLA freefall has begun.
Dropping the opener to Loyola-Marymount was bad. Indefinitely suspending forward Reeves Nelson – the team’s best player – because of attitude issues adds to public perception that the Bruins have serious issues despite starting the season ranked 17th in the AP poll.
But Tuesday’s 86-66 loss to Middle Tennessee State simply sealed it. The Bruins are bad.
“We’re not very good right now. That’s obvious,” coach Ben Howland told ESPN Los Angeles.
Sure, the Blue Raiders are 3-0 and hit 10-of-11 shots from beyond the arc. But that’s on the Bruins, who were awful on defense (MTSU’s offensive rating was better than Wisconsin’s vs. Kennesaw State) and don’t seem to know how to play on the perimeter. Teams are shooting 77 percent from beyond the arc vs. UCLA.
“We’re really a long way away from being a good team,” Howland said. “We’re going into the best tournament in the country next week and we’ve got to try to find a way to get a win here in our next game.”
The tournament is the Maui Invitational. The first opponent is host Chaminade, a D-III school’s that’s usually the weakest in the field. An 0-3 start would be cause for serious concern about the season and Howland’s future at the school. (Not to mention it’s the only easy win in the tourney that also features Duke, Memphis, Kansas, Georgetown, Michigan and Tennessee.
The last time the Bruins were 0-2 was Steve Lavin’s last season in Westwood. After next week, they could be 1-4. That happens, Howland may want to update his résumé.
“I know our guys are down right now. They’ve got to feel terrible, as do I, to have this kind of performance,” Howland told the site. “It’s obviously going to be a lot of soul searching here, but to say it’s unfixable, no I don’t believe that.”
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