It might be too early in the season to classify UCLA's game against California on Thursday as a must-win situation. But it feels that way to the players.
Losing two of their last three, the 17th-ranked Bruins have fallen into a tie for second place in the Pacific 10, unfamiliar territory for a team with three consecutive conference titles.
As freshman guard Jrue Holiday said: "Something needs to change."
Last week's defeat at Washington prompted center Drew Gordon to question the team's heart. On Tuesday, Coach Ben Howland offered a different perspective.
"I think he was speaking from frustration," Howland said at his weekly news conference.
Setting aside intangibles such as fortitude and determination, guard Darren Collison is hoping the Bruins will react to the disappointment with a few substantive changes.
The offense has ground to a halt late in games and, in three of UCLA's four losses, the opponent has shot more free throws. The Bruins, who are among the Pac-10 leaders in three-point shooting, said they need to attack the basket.
They have talked about doing that before, but Collison said: "We're all human beings and we don't do things unless it really pushes your buttons. I think [losing] is really pushing this team's buttons."
UCLA will spend the week practicing better spacing to create more open lanes and angles to pass into the post. Howland, who dismissed questions about his team's conditioning down the stretch, would like to see Holiday get to the line more often.
The freshman said a change in technique might help.
"When we drive, we usually jump-stop," Holiday said. "Maybe we should stop trying to look for the pass. If you have a shot or you have a big man on you, try to jump into him, try to create contact."
After watching replays, Howland and center Alfred Aboya seemed to differ on whether Washington forward Jon Brockman intentionally delivered the elbow that required three stitches in Aboya's forehead.
"You can use your own judgment," Howland told reporters. "I'd be happy to get you the tape."
Aboya thought the blow was inadvertent. He also said he deserved to get a technical -- the first of his college career -- for taunting guard Venoy Overton.
A few possessions earlier, Overton had swerved in front of Aboya as the senior sprinted downcourt. "That technical just shows how frustrated I was," Aboya said.
The Bruins expected Washington to be physical and, beforehand, Howland showed the team tape of last year's game in Seattle, including a play in which a Huskies player bounced a ball off Aboya's face.
"Maybe I shouldn't have done that," Howland said.
California guard Jerome Randle injured his hip against Oregon State last week and told reporters that he is having trouble moving laterally.
Golden Bears Coach Mike Montgomery was asked if this might cause Randle, who leads the conference in assists, problems on defense.
"Collison is a hard guard against anybody," Montgomery said. "If you don't get help, he's going to hurt you."