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UCLA Basketball: Ranking Top 10 Post-Wooden Pre-Conference Runs

Robert PaceContributor IIIDecember 6, 2013

UCLA Basketball: Ranking Top 10 Post-Wooden Pre-Conference Runs

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    As it rolls off to an 8-0 beginning under new head coach Steve Alford, UCLA is off to its best start since the 2006-07 season, which was one of the best starts in recent Bruins’ history.

    Approaching the Bruins’ first real test on Saturday as they take on Missouri (8-0) on the road, we take a look at UCLA’s top pre-conference runs before the mighty reign of John Wooden, who piled up nine undefeated pre-conference runs amongst his many unsurpassable achievements in Westwood.

    Ranked by the caliber of their runs, particularly their success against ranked and tougher opponents, here are the best pre-conference runs from 1975 to present.

Honorable Mention: ’77-’78 (8-1)

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    Sporting News

    Coach: Gary Cunningham

    Starting Five:

    F David Greenwood, Jr.

    F James Wilkes, So.

    C Gig Sims, So.

    G Roy Hamilton, Jr.

    G Raymond Townsend, Sr

    Against Ranked Opponents: L: No. 3 Notre Dame

    Season Record: (25-3, 14-0)

    UCLA’s only loss in their pre-conference run that season was to No. 3 Notre Dame, a three-point defeat at home. The Bruins were ranked No. 5 heading into that game.

    Following that loss, UCLA excelled to No. 3 in the rankings with a nine-game winning streak. That streak was snapped by none other than No. 7 Notre Dame, who handed the Bruins’ their second loss of the season by a nail-biting two-point deficit.

    UCLA went on to win the Pac-8 that season, but lost in the Sweet 16 to No. 5 Arkansas by four points.

Honorable Mention: ’78-’79 (6-1)

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    Sports Illustrated

    Coach: Gary Cunningham

    Starting Five:

    F Kiki Vandeweghe, Jr.

    F David Greenwood, Sr.

    C Gig Sims, Jr.

    G Roy Hamilton, Sr.

    G Brad Holland, Sr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: L: No. 3 Notre Dame

    Season Record: (25-5, 15-3)

    UCLA’s only pre-conference loss was to…you guessed it: Notre Dame.

    Once again, the Bruins, ranked No. 2, fell to the No. 3 Fighting Irish by a three-point margin at Pauley Pavilion.

    However, that season, the Bruins would exact their revenge on the Irish by dethroning their No. 1 spot with a four-point victory in South Bend in February.

    UCLA won the first-ever Pac-10 (previously Pac-8) title that season and made it to the Elite Eight, where they lost to No. 6 DePaul by four.

10. ’76-’77 (10-1)

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    Courtside

    Coach: Gene Bartlow

    Starting Five:

    F Marques Johnson, Sr.

    F David Greenwood, So.

    C Bret Vroman, Jr.

    G Roy Hamilton, So.

    G Jim Spillane, Sr.

    Against Ranked Opponents:  W: No. 18 DePaul, L: No. 7 Notre Dame

    Season Record:  (24-5, 11-3)

    Gene Bartlow followed up a near championship run in his first season as head coach with a solid start to his sophomore season.

    In their second game of the season, the Bruins (No. 4) beat No. 18 DePaul at home by a seven-point fringe.

    However, they couldn’t squeeze past No. 7 Notre Dame and lost their first game of the season by three points at home.

    Noticing a pattern here?

    The Bruins had a tough time against the Fighting Irish when the two routinely played each other; however, the lifetime balances tips in UCLA’s favor at 28-20.

    UCLA won the Pac-8 that year, but had its championship hopes squandered when it was upset by Idaho State in the Sweet 16 by one point.

9. ’80-’81 (6-1)

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    Checkoutmycards.com

    Coach: Larry Brown

    Starting Five:

    F Mike Sanders, Jr.

    F Darren Daye, So.

    C Kenny Fields, Fr.

    G Michael Holton, So.

    G Rod Foster, So.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 10 Notre Dame, L: No. 1 DePaul

    Season Record: (20-7, 13-5)

    UCLA nearly shocked the world the prior season when it surged to NCAA Finals* after finishing fourth in the Pac-10.

    Boasting a No. 6 ranking after dropping out of the Top 25 early in conference play the year before, the Bruins triumphed over No. 10 Notre Dame by 13 points.

    Everything was golden for the Bruins until they played No. 1 DePaul on the road. Although UCLA was No. 3 at the time, they were handily defeated by 16 points, ending their unbeaten streak at six.

    The Bruins finished third in the Pac-10 that year, but the magic from the prior year’s NCAA Tournament disappeared, as they were walloped by 23 points in the Round of 32.

    *UCLA’s 1980 NCAA Tournament finish was later vacated by the NCAA due to use of ineligible players.  

8. ’93-’94 (7-0)

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Coach: Jim Harrick

    Starting Five:

    F Charles O’Bannon, Fr.

    F Ed O’Bannon, Jr.

    C George Zidek, Jr.

    G Shon Tarver, Sr.

    G Tyus Edney, Jr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 25 LSU

    Season Record: (21-7, 13-5)

    Although they faced some light competition in the early stages of the season, UCLA proved to be the real deal when it continued its seven-game undefeated pre-conference streak by an additional seven games, grabbing the nation’s No. 1 ranking at 14-0.

    However, the high ranking was more a curse than an honor for the Bruins, as they immediately lost their first game of the season with the No. 1 ranking, and they would drop to No. 17 by the end of the season.

    The team, led by juniors Ed O’Bannon and Tyus Edney, tied for second place in the Pac-10, but gravely disappointed in the NCAA Tournament with a 10-point loss in the Round of 64 to an unranked Tulsa team.

7. ’82-’83 (7-1)

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    Basketball Magazine

    Coach: Larry Farmer

    Starting Five: F Kenny Fields, Jr.

    F Darren Daye, Sr.

    C Stuart Gray, So.

    G Rod Foster, Sr.

    G Ralph Jackson, Jr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 7 Iowa, W: No. 13 Louisville

    Season Record: (23-6, 15-3)

    Larry Farmer helped ease the pain of a rough first season at UCLA with a strong start to his sophomore season at the helm.

    After losing his first game at UCLA to an unranked opponent as the No. 2 team in the nation, Farmer beat two top-ranked teams in pre-conference play. The Bruins’ only loss came to an unranked Maryland team in a one-point, double-overtime thriller on the road.

    Although it cruised to a conference title, UCLA didn’t have any luck in the NCAA Tournament, and had its season ended abruptly in the Round of 32 to an unranked Utah team.

6. ’05-’06 (10-1)

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Coach: Ben Howland

    Starting Five:

    F Cedric Bozeman, Sr.

    F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Fr.

    C Ryan Hollins, Sr.

    G Jordan Farmar, So.

    G Arron Afflalo, So.

    Against Ranked Opponents:  W: No. 17 Nevada, L: No. 11 Memphis

    Season Record: (32-7, 14-4)                         

    The 2005-06 season was the first hyped UCLA basketball season in what seemed like too many years for a program accustomed to deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.

    For his third year in Westwood, Ben Howland had a starting five that could pass for an NBA lineup nowadays.

    The Bruins appeared to be a bust when they lost to No. 11 Memphis in their fourth game of the season, but they won the rest of their pre-conference games, including a battle against No. 17 Nevada.

    UCLA would go on to beat Memphis when it mattered, though, as the Bruins later clawed past the Tigers by 14 in an Elite 8 matchup on their way to the Finals, where they lost to Florida by 16.

    The Bruins also won their first Pac-10 title in nine years that season.

5. ’75-’76 (10-1)

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    UCLA

    Coach: Gene Bartlow

    Starting Five:

    F Marques Johnson, Jr.

    F Richard Washington, Jr.

    C David Greenwood, Fr.

    G Raymond Townsend, So.

    G Andre McCarter, Sr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: L: No. 1 Indiana, W: No. 5 Notre Dame

    Season Record: (28-4, 13-1)

    After John Wooden finished his career at UCLA on an eight-game winning streak, Gene Bartlow lost his first game as head coach of the Bruins by 20 points.

    While it was an inauspicious start to his tenure in Westwood, his inaugural game happened to be against No. 1 Indiana, who would later win the NCAA Tournament that year.

    The Bruins bounced back from their opening-day loss by closing out their pre-conference schedule with 10 consecutive wins, including a victory over No. 6 Notre Dame.

    With future Hall of Famer Marques Johnson leading the team, UCLA won the Pac-8 that year and finished third in the NCAA Tournament by winning a Final Four consolation game after losing to soon-to-be champs Indiana by 14.

4. ’94-’95 (6-0)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Coach: Jim Harrick

    Starting Five:

    F Charles O’Bannon, So.

    F Ed O’Bannon, Sr.

    C George Zidek, Sr.

    G Tyus Edney, Sr.

    G Toby Bailey, Fr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 7 Kentucky

    Season Record: (32-1, 17-1)

    UCLA came out of the gates at blazing speed in the 1994-95 season after a dismal ending to the prior season that culminated in the Round of 64.

    Touted as the No. 6 team in the nation, the Bruins dominated all but one of their pre-conference opponents. Jumping to No. 2, UCLA just barely edged out No. 7 Kentucky by one point to remain flawless in the early season.

    The Bruins winning streak was severed in their first conference game against an unranked Oregon team, but that would be the only time they’d hang their heads after a game that season.

    UCLA went on to not only win the Pac-12 decisively with a 17-1 record, but they also won the NCAA Tournament, thanks to some heroics from Tyus Edney to keep their run alive.

    That championship remains the Bruins’ most recent to date.

3. ’07-’08 (12-1)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Coach: Ben Howland

    Starting Five:

    F Josh Shipp, Jr.

    F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jr.

    C Kevin Love, Fr.

    G Darren Collison, Jr.

    G Russell Westbrook, So.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 10 Michigan St., L: No. 8 Texas

    Season Record: (35-4, 16-2)

    After coming within spitting distance of an NCAA championship two years in a row, UCLA had once again set a high standard for its basketball program.

    With the addition of dynamic freshman center Kevin Love to the squad, the Bruins kept the ball rolling in the 2007-08 season.

    The team proved its No. 2 ranking a valid assessment when it beat No. 10 Michigan State early in the season, but later lost to No. 8 Texas in pre-conference play.

    UCLA won its third consecutive Pac-10 title, they and also made a trip to its third consecutive Final Four, but lost to No. 2 Memphis, which was equipped with electric point guard Derrick Rose.

2. ’91-’92 (8-0)

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Coach: Jim Harrick

    Starting Five:

    F Don MacLean, Jr.

    F Tracy Murray, So.

    F Mitchell Butler, So.

    G Darrick Martin, Jr.

    G Gerald Madkins, Jr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 2 Indiana

    Season Record: (28-5, 16-2)

    UCLA had a big exam and little time to study in the 1991-92 season.

    For their first game of the season, the No. 11 Bruins faced the No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers. UCLA stunned all that day when they beat Indiana by 15. They subsequently climbed to No. 4 in the rankings after the defining win.

    While the Bruins won the Pac-10 that year, they were routed in the Elite Eight by a team that was ranked one slot lower in the AP poll: Indiana.

    Bob Knight and his No. 5 Hoosiers reciprocated the embarrassment on the No. 4 Bruins by routing them by 27 points and halting their tournament run.

1. ’06-’07 (11-0)

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Coach: Ben Howland

    F Josh Shipp, So.

    F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, So.

    C Lorenzo Mata, Jr.

    G Darren Collison, So.

    G Arron Afflalo, Jr.

    Against Ranked Opponents: W: No. 20 Kentucky, W: No. 19 Georgia Tech, W: No. 6 Texas A&M

    Season Record: (30-6, 15-3)

    Following UCLA’s run to the NCAA Finals in 2005-06, Westwood was buzzing with excitement for its basketball program once again, and the Bruins didn’t disappoint the following season.

    Although the Bruins had made it to the championship game and had their core starters returning, they were given a No. 6 ranking to start the season.

    UCLA quickly shaved off the excess numbers from its ranking with a pair of wins over ranked opponents, including a 15-point win over No. 19 Georgia Tech. They later proved worthy of their new No. 1 ranking when they beat No. 6 Texas.

    The Bruins won their second consecutive Pac-10 title and also journeyed to their second straight Final Four, once again falling short to their arch-nemesis Florida.

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