After a somewhat stunning overtime upset at the hands of the California Bears in Berkley, the UCLA Bruins missed out on a golden opportunity to crack the top 25.
Though the Bruins fell behind by double digits early and trailed for practically the entire game, they did managed to tie the score in spectacular fashion when Malcolm Lee hit a three pointer by with just one second remaining in regulation. The comeback was not to be though, as the Bears put the Bruins away in the overtime.
It was a tough loss that ended both Cal’s four game losing streak and the Bruins six game winning streak.
While the Bruins did garner a single vote in the AP poll and five votes in the coach’s poll, their RPI has them ranked as the 38th best team in the country. Much of that low ranking has to do with UCLA’s weak schedule, which is ranked 40th in the country.
Still, that is not too shabby considering how poorly the Bruins started the regular season (3-4) and the Pac-10 conference (2-3). They now sit at 19-8 overall and are second in the Pac-10 at 10-4.
The next two games are huge for the Bruins, especially this Saturday’s game at Pauley Pavilion against the No. 10 ranked Arizona Wildcats. The game is scheduled to be nationally televised on ESPN, which will help UCLA’s reputation in the east should they beat the Wildcats.
A sweep of the Arizona teams would undoubtedly vault the Bruins into the top 25 for the first time this year and send a message to the rest of the country that UCLA is storming back into contention for the NCAA title.
The rest of the college basketball world must fear a resurgent Bruin team.
The Bruins have the history, the titles, the reputation and the talent. The only question with this young Bruin squad is do they have the strength of character and determination to play at the highest level when the game is on the line.
The comeback at the buzzer versus Cal says yes, but the subsequent overtime loss says no.
While I am not saying that the Bruins are a shoo-in for their record 12th NCAA title, I do think they will go farther in the tournament than their record indicates. This team just keeps getting better and better with every game. Even if they don’t fair well in March, this year will be a stepping-stone and a valuable learning experience for the players, as they gear up to be a top ranked team once again next year.