UCLA Basketball: At the Crossroads

Derek HartCorrespondent IFebruary 17, 2009

Well, this is where we stand...

After a disastrous trip through the Arizona desert this past weekend, losing to both Arizona and Arizona State, the UCLA Bruins face what is probably their biggest regular season game in the past few years this Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion.

The Washington Huskies, currently in first place in the Pac-10 conference with a record of 10-3, will face the Bruins with an opportunity to at least solidify their claim on the conference title, if not sew it up outright.

As for the Bruins, what happens to them this Thursday will go a long way in telling how the rest of their season will go. And if the way they performed against the Sun Devils and Wildcats is any indication, it will not be easy.

Clearly UCLA has issues, mostly that their inside defense is not as good as people thought it would be. And, without blaming him, former Gatorade H.S. Player of the Year Jrue Holiday has played like a freshman at times, notably against ASU when he went scoreless.

There has been one particular item that I personally have noticed that the media has seemed not to mention too much that has affected this team more than anyone is willing to admit.

Losing Russell Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, and Kevin Love has hurt the Bruins—more than it was thought they would.

This is particularly the case with Mbah A Moute and Love, as far as their defensive inside presence is concerned. They were beasts on the boards, and people have been able to score in the paint more easily on the Bruins this year with them gone.

Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya have done their best, but it seems that they are just good role players who just haven't been able to match the effectiveness of their predecessors on those boards, particularly against dominant big men.

In my book, that's been a significant factor in UCLA's recent troubles.

Their situation, 8-4 in the conference and in third place, is what makes this upcoming game against the first place Huskies a crucial crossroads match. 

If the Bruins pull off a win, it will put them right in the mix again for the conference title and a possible three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament.

If their struggles continue, I see a probable seven or eight seed and an early exit. As such, UCLA is a Sweet 16 team at best.

What more is there to say, except that this is an absolute must-win for these Bruins this Thursday? And that goes for the remainder of their games.

As always, we'll see what happens.