UCLA needs to be roadworthy
One for the road … or maybe two.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland sticks to his “one game at a time” coach-speak and his players assemble behind in lock step. Yet, even with that single-game focus, there is a big-picture question that follows the Bruins as they toddle off this week for games at Oregon State and Oregon.
How many road victories will the Bruins need to live up to expectations that came with being the preseason pick to win the Pac-12 Conference?
“Six, seven, eight,” guard Jerime Anderson said. “If we’re able to play well at home and get those road wins, it will put us in a good position to win the Pac-12.”
The Bruins, fresh from a “road” victory over USC, play at Oregon State on Thursday night and at Oregon on Saturday, looking for a sweep that would extend their winning streak to five games.
But that would be getting ahead of Howland.
“All I’m thinking about is Thursday night,” Howland said. “I’m not looking any further than that.”
Still, he admits, “Anybody who wants to finish high in this league has to win some road games, no question.”
The Bruins (10-7 overall, 3-2 in conference play) have been on the road all season, with Pauley Pavilion being refurbished. But their only victory outside of Southern California this season was against Chaminade.
UCLA opened conference play with losses at Stanford and California, currently tied for the conference lead, and will play four of its next six games on the road.
“The bottom line is we’re going have to get it done on the road,” guard Tyler Lamb said. “We need some big wins on the road, starting with this week. We’d love to come out 2-0.”
But, he quickly added, “We’re going to take it one game at time.”
The difficulty of winning on the road in the Pac-12 goes beyond isolated outposts (Corvallis, Ore.) and hostile arenas (Eugene, Ore.).
The conference stretches from the Canadian to the Mexican borders and extends east to the Rocky Mountains, making for some weekends — long ones, if things don’t go well.
Howland spent four seasons at Pittsburgh at a time when the Big East Conference was “Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York — the games were not that far away.”
UCLA forwards Travis and David Wear began their college careers at North Carolina, where “we’d fly out the day before the game and come back after the game,” David said. “These road trips are four or five days.”
This trip begins in Corvallis, where playing Oregon State (11-7, 1-5) has been a chore this season. California’s only conference loss was in Corvallis and Stanford needed four overtimes to get a road victory against the Beavers.
Next stop is Oregon (13-5, 4-2), where ancient MacArthur Court has been retired and Matthew Knight Arena has yet to reach the same hostility level.
“The other place was loud,” Howland said.
Knight may be less acoustically challenging, but “everyone there is going to be rooting against us,” David Wear said. It doesn’t help that the Ducks seem to have found their web-footing. Oregon swept Arizona and Arizona State on the road for only the second time in 34 seasons.
The Bruins’ road stretch comes at a time when teams are still posturing. Three Pac-12 teams have one loss and four more have only two losses
“It’s difficult right now because no one has set themselves apart,” Anderson said. “There are a bunch of teams teetering in the same area. That’s going to change greatly in the next four or five games. We want to be one of those teams with two losses.”
Anderson noted that the Bruins play five of their last seven at home.
“If we get through this tough part of our schedule and win these games, we can ride our home-court advantage,” Anderson said.
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