UCLA Basketball: Dangerous Bruins Are Peaking at Right Time

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Head coach Ben Howland and Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the UCLA Bruins comfer during the game with the Washington State Cougars at Pauley Pavilion on February 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.   UCLA won 76-62.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Few teams in the country have been harder to read over the course of the college basketball season than UCLA. Although inconsistency has been an issue for the Bruins, they are starting to peak at the right time with the NCAA tournament on the horizon.

After a busy offseason that saw the program bring in a top-notch recruiting class which raised expectations in a major way, the campaign got off to a rocky start. The Bruins dropped three of their first eight, including a stunner against Cal Poly.

At that point, the bandwagon began to clear out pretty quickly, at least on a national level. They certainly didn't look like a team capable of making a deep run in March, and with all the crazy upsets around the nation, the Bruins got lost in the shuffle a bit.

It was never an issue of talent. UCLA has plenty, led by superstar freshman Shabazz Muhammad, and always had the potential to hang tight with any team in the country. But in the early going, it simply looked like the plan wasn't going to come together as perfectly as hoped for in Westwood.

Then the Bruins rattled off 10 straight victories, beating then-No. 7 Missouri in the process, to break back into the national spotlight. The offense was far more efficient, scoring at least 74 points seven times during the streak, and the hype returned.

Alas, almost as if the entire team caught wind of the returning high expectations, UCLA lost four of its next seven. It did mix an impressive victory over Arizona in that skid, but could do nothing to build off it, dropping two straight afterward.

The frustration probably reached its peak for the Bruins after the road loss to Cal. While it's not a terrible result by any stretch, it was the type of game where they could have made a serious statement to the rest of the Pac-12, but instead they came out extremely flat. The game was over by halftime.

It was a learning experience that also served as a mental test for UCLA. Would it respond like earlier in the season or fade away, letting all of that talent go to waste?

Muhammad and Co. chose the first option, bouncing back yet again. The Bruins have tallied four straight wins since that lackluster performance against the Golden Bears, including another victory over Arizona.

Suddenly, the NCAA tournament is right around the corner and the Bruins are looking like a dangerous sleeper team that none of the top seeds will want in their quarter of the bracket.

They have a go-to scorer in Muhammad, an outside threat in Jordan Adams, somebody who can do it all in Kyle Anderson and the Wear brothers in the post. Larry Drew II provides veteran stability at the point.

If the Bruins are finally putting everything together like it appears they have been over the past four games, it's a team capable of making some serious noise come tournament time.

UCLA just has to make sure to avoid another setback before the big dance gets underway.