After UCLA’s 69-58 opening night loss to Loyola Marymount on Nov. 11, sophomore center Josh Smith took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.
“Just lost to some straight bums lol…” Smith tweeted, before removing it a short time later.
Now, nearly two weeks after that tweet was sent out, the Bruins sit miserably at 1-4, have yet to beat a Division I team, and have lost their four games by an average of 16 points.
Wednesday night in Maui was the latest unfortunate outing, as the Bruins gave up the lead to No. 15 Michigan at the 14-minute mark of the first half and never got it back, losing by double-digits for the second straight night, 79-63.
It begs the question: have the name-callers, themselves, become the subjects of ridicule?
Compounded by UCLA’s storied past, the general mediocrity of the Pac-12 this season, and the off-the-court antics that add to the negativity, the Bruins need a fix.
Aside from Smith’s Twitter jab at LMU, the team’s leading scorer from last season, junior forward Reeves Nelson, became the latest to draw question marks. On Saturday, Nelson missed the team bus to the airport and, subsequently, the team plane to Maui, less than seven days after serving a suspension for (you guessed it) lateness.
“To be late to that meeting after we just got beat was really, really inappropriate,” head coach Ben Howland told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “He understands it doesn’t look good.”
But where is the sense of urgency?
With both Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt leaving for the NBA Draft after last season, their departures cut 37 percent of total scoring out of the picture. Instead of stepping up, Nelson’s numbers have taken a hit. He has dropped from nearly 14 points per game in 2010-11 to eight this season, including having to sit out the Bruins’ 20-point loss to Middle Tennessee, due to suspension.
As dismal as this start may be, there is time to turn things around. With how bad the Pac-12 has been, a strong finish to the non-conference schedule and some momentum in conference play could turn things around.
The difficulty comes in defining “turn things around.”
Being that Cal and Arizona are looking like the two strongest teams in the conference, and with at-large bids from the Pac-12 at a premium, “turning things around” may not mean a tournament berth.
The more important part of all of this will be how the Bruins are viewed on the recruiting trail.
UCLA already has signatures from 2012 blue chipper Kyle Anderson of St. Anthony (N.J.), along with four-star forward Jordan Adams of Oak Hill (Va.). Anderson was recently quoted in full support of his future college team, discounting the rumblings of those who cried, “The sky is falling!”
The question is less about the two prospects already bound by letters of intent and more about the big fish that still lurks the sea: consensus number one player in the nation for the Class of 2012, Shabazz Muhammad.
UCLA is among those courting the 6-foot-6 swingman from Las Vegas, along with USC, Kentucky, Duke, UNLV, and others. Muhammad is a versatile lefty who finishes with authority above the rim. He has a polished mid-range game and has a body ready for high-major basketball.
Howland, whose knack for sending players to the NBA was most likely a motivating factor in Anderson’s decision, cannot afford to give off the sense that his house is not in order. Not with a crosstown rival, a rebuilding program with local ties, and two national powerhouses breathing down your neck.
Muhammad says he will sign during the spring signing period, which gives the Bruins most, if not all, of the season to determine their own fate.
UCLA has four days to regroup, before a Monday night matchup with in-state foe Pepperdine.