For a UCLA basketball fan searching for optimism after the Bruins kicked off a conference season 0-2 for the first time since 1987-88, maybe Coach Ben Howland isn’t the go-to man.
UCLA plays host to Arizona on Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference game at Honda Center that also serves as the Wooden Classic, and Howland offered up a negative when asked to assess the predicament.
“Arizona is a very hard team for us to match up with,” Howland said. “Basically we’re playing against five guards.”
The Wildcats have no starter taller than 6-foot-7 forward Jesse Perry, and they start three guards.
Somehow, UCLA’s taller, heavier and slower-footed lineup must figure out ways to guard against quickness. So far, the Bruins haven’t figured out much about defending quickness … or length … or shooters … or offensive rebounders very well.
One of Arizona’s guards is 6-3 Kyle Fogg, a senior from Brea who, Howland said, “always plays well against us.” Howland also said he expected Wildcats starting point guard Jordin Mayes and his backup, freshman Josiah Turner, to “present problems.”
As Howland recounted what went wrong last week in Northern California, he lamented watching his team miss “five or six wide open shots,” in the one-point loss to Stanford.
“That hurt us,” he said.
Against California, which shot 65.4% in an 85-69 victory, Howland said, “We had no good defensive stops in that game.”
Howland said he hopes as the season progresses that sophomore center Josh Smith, whose weight seems substantially heavier than the listed 305 pounds, would be able to get more minutes per game — he is averaging 18.1 — and also more shots.
“Josh is sixth on the team in shots,” Howland said, “and I envisioned him as being in the top two this season.”
UCLA point guard Lazeric Jones said Smith has been working hard in the last month on his conditioning, doing extra running and spending more time in the weight room.
“I really see him getting there, where he needs to be,” Jones said.
That is hope; this, Jones said, is reality: If there is to be an NCAA tournament in the Bruins’ future, it will come only if they win the Pac-12 tournament at Staples Center in early March.
Until then, there is the rest of the season.
Howland said the Wooden Classic was made part of the Pac-12 schedule this season and played Thursday instead of on its traditional date in December because of the fractured nature of UCLA’s schedule, which was prompted by renovations to the Bruins’ home court, Pauley Pavilion.