After spending much of the last two weeks in hotels and airports, UCLA is savoring a return to the place where it has blue and gold status.
On Sunday against Montana, the Bruins open a stretch in which they will play seven of their next eight games at Pauley Pavilion. The only time they must venture outside Westwood will be for the Wooden Classic against Brigham Young on Dec. 18 at the Honda Center.
"We've been on the road for what seems like forever because of the length of the trips," Coach Ben Howland said during a teleconference Saturday. "It's probably been 10,000 miles in the air over the last few weeks, so it's good to get back."
The road was dotted with losses for the Bruins (3-3), who wrapped up an 0-3 trip Thursday with a 77-76 loss to Kansas. Before that, there had been defeats against Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth in New York in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Howland said he was encouraged that the Bruins exhibited improvement over the course of the trip.
"The Villanova game got away from us," Howland said. "The other two games, we've been right there at the end and need to find a way to win those games down the stretch. But we are improving."
Now the Bruins will hope for some home improvement.
"It's all about getting home and winning," junior guard Lazeric Jones said after the setback to the Jayhawks.
Beating Montana isn't a given. The Grizzlies (3-3) have three key players back from the team that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season, including what Howland called a Pacific 10 Conference-level forward in 7-foot junior Derek Selvig. Senior center Brian Qvale is shooting 66% from the field and sophomore guard Will Cherry is averaging a team-high 16.8 points per game.
Howland said he spoke Sunday with John Adams, head of NCAA basketball officiating, about the ending against Kansas in which referee Doug Simmons called UCLA guard Malcolm Lee for a loose-ball foul with seven-tenths of a second remaining. Guard Mario Little made a free throw to give the Jayhawks the victory.
"I gave him my two cents," Howland, who was critical of the call immediately after the game, said of Adams. "The game's over. They won, we lost, we're moving forward now. Bad calls happen, it's just unfortunate what happened at that point of a game would decide a game."
Howland said the Bruins also had themselves to blame after squandering a six-point, second-half lead.