If UCLA has failed to live up to expectations, it's only because expectations for the Bruins were so far out of whack. . . .
Happily deluding themselves were fans and prognosticators who believed that Darren Collison & Co. could seamlessly pick up where they left off last season despite the exits of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. . . .
Now, the regular season is winding down, March is just around the corner and UCLA has not defeated a ranked opponent. . . .
Tonight would be a good time to start. . . .
When ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy says, "I don't think people understand how good [Pau] Gasol is," as he did recently, he underestimates the intelligence of his audience. . . .
Lakers fans know. . . .
Lamar Odom could be a rebounder in the mold of Dennis Rodman -- minus the nose and lip rings, wedding dress, multicolored hair and general craziness, of course. . . .
Things we've learned about Alex Rodriguez, from the horse's mouth: He was once young, stupid and full of it. . . .
A banned substance, that is. . . .
A wonderful cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows a towering image of Hank Aaron looming over pint-sized figures labeled Clemens, A-Rod, Bonds and McGwire, with the A-Rod figure asking, "How come when we take steroids, he gets bigger?" . . .
Amen. . . .
Manny Ramirez, by the way, is one of nine players listed as co-favorites to be "the next baseball hero caught using steroids," according to odds posted at BookMaker.com. . . .
In a USA Today poll this week, 51% of respondents said they were a "Shaq person," 29% said they were a "Kobe person" and 20% said they would "never choose between the two." . . .
All that really matters: Jerry Buss is a Kobe person. . . .
Co-favorites to be the next NBA coach fired, according to odds posted at BetUS.com: Mike Dunleavy and Vinny Del Negro, whose Chicago Bulls still might make the playoffs. . . .
During Tuesday's rout at Phoenix, Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler noted, "It's like the seniors against the freshmen." . . .
When Zach Randolph erupted, it was more like kindergarten. . . .
The Phoenix Suns, by the way, scored a staggering 90 points in the paint against the Clippers, more than any other team since STATS LLC started charting the stat in 1993. . . .
A Sporting News pre-combine mock NFL draft lists four former USC players -- Mark Sanchez, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Fili Moala -- among the 32 first-round picks. . . .
Noting that Izzy's Deli in Santa Monica offers items named for local sports celebrities -- e.g., Keith Erickson's chicken breast sandwich, Fred Slaughter's chicken strips -- USC sports business professor Jeff Fellenzer e-mails to suggest a timely addition to the menu: "Tim Floyd's Tuna Meltdown." . . .
USC's volcanic coach might get a charge out of that. . . .
Ryo Ishikawa, the 17-year-old Japanese golfing sensation playing this week in the Northern Trust Open, is nicknamed "Hanikami Oji," which translates to "Bashful Prince." . . .
USC shortstop Grant Green and San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg were the only unanimous first-team picks on Baseball America's preseason All-American team, as selected by major-league scouting directors. . . .
Second chances, apparently, are OK with Sean Avery. . . .
You know these are unusual economic times in baseball when Bobby Abreu is available to sign an 11th-hour deal with the Angels for $5 million, $11 million less than he made while posting All-Star-caliber numbers for the New York Yankees in 2008. . . .
Reader Dave Pageau of Torrance suggests that a statue of Phil Anschutz sits outside Staples Center, "but like his local presence and overall effect on the Kings, it is invisible." . . .
Mike Whitmarsh, found dead Tuesday at a friend's home in Solana Beach, was a former college basketball player who teamed with another former college hoopster, Mike Dodd, to win a silver medal in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics. . . .
The PacSun U.S. surf team was given a pep talk this week by Pete Carroll, himself a wave rider, who told the teens, "If you start worrying about other stuff that you can't control, that's when you take your focus off giving your best." . . .
USC football fans can only hope he delivers a similar message the next time the Trojans play Oregon State.