UCLA Basketball: A Midseason Report

Derek HartCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2009

OK, a 13-2 record. Good.

A 3-0 record in the Pac-10 conference. A good start.

Ranked No. 10 in the latest AP poll. Again, good.

A well-earned 64-60 victory over USC at the Galen Center in Los Angeles last night. VERY Good—and a measure of revenge for the Trojans' win over the Bruins in football.

USC, to its credit, gave the Bruins a good fight on their floor, but it was a combination of Trojan star Taj Gibson getting shut down, having three fouls in the first half, eventually fouling out, and UCLA's starters coming through when it mattered.

Darren Collison had a game-high 18 points, Nikola Dragovic had a career-high 14 points, and freshman standout Jrue Holiday made three of four three-pointers.

After 15 games, it's fairly safe to say that the Bruins are poised to really make a push for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

The defense has been it's dominating self. Coach Ben Howland's decree in Westwood has always been, "If you don't play defense, you don't play!"

That's been a big factor in the Bruins' run of three consecutive Final Fours.

And that is why you will never see UCLA get blown out of games, as long as defense is an emphasis. Remember folks, defense wins games.

As for how I think the rest of the season will pan out?

The Bruins' main concern is an inconsistent offense and a go-to guy that can score 25 to 30 points a night; Collison is as close as they get in that area.

Plus out of those 13 wins, the vast majority of them have been against cupcakes like Loyola Marymount, Cal State Northridge, and a bunch of other teams whose names I forget. The one top ten team they faced, No. 7 Texas, beat them in Austin although the Bruins gave them a good fight.

They have yet to prove that they can beat top teams. They will certainly be tested against No. 20 Arizona State this weekend and No. 13 Notre Dame in a few weeks, both at Pauley Pavilion.

California, at 15-2 with a 4-0 conference record, will post a challenge for the Bruins as well.

If UCLA can get more consistency in their scoring and beat those strong teams, there's no reason why a fourth straight Final Four wouldn't be in their future.

As such, I see a Sweet Sixteen for them if the tournament started today. Maybe an Elite Eight if they won the Pac-10, stayed in the West Regional, and got a good seed.

Hopefully I can see a Final Four for the Bruins a month from now if their offense gets more consistent.

As college basketball's greatest program—11 national championships, including 10 in 12 years and seven in a row under the greatest sports coach of all time, John Wooden—the UCLA Bruins will not settle for anything less than a Final Four and an opportunity to win the national championship.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season pans out.