In preparation for Arizona State’s game versus UCLA tonight, I sat down with Jeff Poirier, the lead editor of UCLA’s FanSided site, Go Joe Bruin.
Jeff was kind enough to answer some of questions about Bruins basketball, and I returned the favor for ASU. My answers to his Sun Devil questions can be seen in an article on his site. Here are Jeff’s answers from his Q&A session with Devils In Detail.
Q: What’s the latest on Ben Howland — is he really on the hot seat at UCLA, and do you think he’ll be back next season? Bill Walton has implied that Howland should be fired.
A: Honestly, I would say it’s hard to tell at this point. The UCLA fan base is somewhat split, with a lot of people calling for his job and others still holding on to his three consecutive Final Four appearances from 06-08. It’s entirely feasible that he could be fired at the end of the season, but I think that would require an extremely poor showing in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments. If the Bruins make it to at least the Pac-12 semifinals, and can get to the second weekend of the Big Dance, I’m pretty sure Howland will remain in Westwood. But given the way that Walton and the rest of the UCLA alumni base have been so vocal about his job status, Howland would likely get the axe if the Bruins bow out with a whimper.
Q: What have been the high and low points for Bruins basketball this season? The recent 76-63 loss to Cal has to be one of the low water marks.
A: When looking at the Bruins’ schedule, there are some obvious high and low points. Back in November, then-No. 11 UCLA lost at home against Cal Poly, and then Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb transferred out of the program the next day. That was really the signal that this season wasn’t going to be what we all expected, and that the Bruins weren’t legitimate title contenders. But because of how early in the season it was, that isn’t the lowest point. Rather, the consecutive losses to Arizona State and USC (immediately after drubbing Arizona in Tucson) were probably the worst. Losing by 18-points to the Devils, and then getting beaten by our most-hated rival at Pauley Pavilion, well that’s just inexcusable.
As far as high points, the 10-game winning streak from December to January, which included an exhilarating OT win over then-No. 7 Missouri, was definitely the highlight of the season. Knocking off the Wildcats was also huge, but it was sandwiched among three losses, so it’s hard to point to that as much more than a single game triumph.
Q: Who has been the most significant breakout player for UCLA?
A: It’s easy to choose any of the Bruins’ top-three freshman (Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams), but I am going to go in a different direction. Instead of picking one of the highly-touted recruits that were expected to excel, I’m going to highlight an upperclassmen that has worked his tail off and improved year after year: Travis Wear.
Wear has been a rock for UCLA this season, consistently playing major minutes and producing across the board. The 6’10” F/C leads the team in blocks, ranks second in rebounding and sits third in scoring. He has developed a very reliable midrange jump shot, and he has improved as a defender throughout the season. Without him, the Bruins would be relying far too much on their freshmen guards (whom they already turn to for most of their scoring).
Q: Has the 2012/2013 UCLA team met the expectations of Bruins fans? If so, why? Are fans demanding a Pac-12 championship this season?
A: This year’s team has definitely fallen below expectations, but part of the problem is that the media hyped up the Bruins way too much just because of the top-ranked recruiting class. UCLA has some glaring roster deficiencies and hasn’t been able to overcome them in a number of circumstances.
Because John Calipari won a national title with a team of freshmen, everyone started thinking that was the formula for success. Well, take a look at how Kentucky is doing this year and you’ll see that it isn’t a sustainable method. It is extremely difficult for a bunch of first-year college players to mesh together and play cohesively, especially on the defensive end of the floor. But UCLA fans and the media were blinded by the Bruins’ recruiting haul, and so people started predicting huge success. At this point, I don’t think anyone is demanding a Pac-12 title, but the fact that UCLA is even in a position to contend is good news.
Q: How far do you expect the Bruins to go in the Pac-12 tournament, and which teams will challenge them in Las Vegas?
A: Depending on seeding, I think UCLA has a legitimate chance to win the Pac-12 Tournament, but then again so does every team in the conference this year. If the Bruins end up with a first-round bye, I think they have the talent to at least get to the semifinals. What happens after that is really hard to call, but I truly think anyone can win it all. The biggest threats to UCLA in Las Vegas are Arizona State and Cal, though Arizona and Oregon won’t be easy outs by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: What are your main concerns about UCLA’s matchup with ASU on Wednesday night? And what is your prediction for the final score?
A: My main concern stems directly from the teams’ last meeting together. In Tempe, the Sun Devils absolutely dismantled the Bruins by winning the battle of the boards, outrebounding UCLA, 49-29. Arizona State ended up winning by 18 points, and a big part of that was 7’2” center Jordan Bachynski scoring 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting with 15 rebounds. Unless the Bruins can attack the glass and prevent ASU from dominating the paint, it could be another similar outcome. If Travis Wear is forced to sit out again due to injury, UCLA’s chances look even slimmer.
For a score prediction, I think this game is going to be a lot closer because it is in Los Angeles and because UCLA will be looking for revenge. After seeing the Bruins outmuscle the Trojans in the rematch on Sunday, I think they have a good chance to get even with the Sun Devils. Also, I highly doubt UCLA will shoot as poorly in the second meeting.
UCLA 77, Arizona State 72