National title contenders for the past 2 seasons, the UCLA Bruins entered this season also dreaming of the possibility of a perfect Pac-10 season.
The league is arguably the toughest in the country, but the Bruins and their fans believed that they were good enough to get through unscathed.
Following the stunning loss last Saturday to rival Southern Cal, the questions surrounding the team have changed from positive to negative.
Here's how I answer those questions: Calm down, people.
Any logical fan knew going into the season that it would be nearly impossible to sweep the Pac-10. The league is simply too strong. The Bruins were going to lose a game at some point. So why not now? They're currently 16-2 (4-1 in league) and are still in first place. They are strongly in the hunt for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and can still get the #1 overall seed. They are ranked #8 in the nation.
People, the serious doubts about this team need to stop.
One bad game shouldn't erase what this team has done up to this point. They blew out Washington State, a top 5 team. They swept the Bay Area schools on the road. They beat Michigan State without Darren Collison. One loss shouldn't change that.
That being said, however, there are still areas that the Bruins need to work on in order to make another Final Four run.
First and foremost is their outside shooting. The only true shooter on the team is Michael Roll, and he is now out until February or March with a foot injury. Josh Shipp is shooting well in his absence, but the shooting ends there.
Teams have been zoning the Bruins all year with success. The only way the Bruins have been able to bust zones has been through backdoor lobs and the occasional penetration. But that hasn't been consistent enough, the Bruins have to start shooting the ball better to make a run in March.
Secondly is their post passing. Granted, UCLA has been without a true post player in Howland's tenure, but Kevin Love has to get the ball more. He doesn't even have to shoot. Playing inside-out will free up UCLA's shooters for open looks.
The guards look lost when trying to feed Love the ball. The passes are often deflected out of bounds, or just outright stolen. Only about 1 of 2 post feeds even makes it to Love. If the Bruins can start effectively feeding the post, that should lead to an improvement in terms of outside shooting, since the guards will be getting wide open looks.
Overall, the Bruins have had a successful season to this point. Granted, many people had the Bruins at 18-0 right now, but a loss or two isn't going to kill them. As long as they can learn from these games and show up every night, it's hard to see them losing between now and the NCAA tournament. If they can learn to feed the post better, then look out world. That could lead to banner #101 coming to Westwood in early April.