After two weeks, four games, and a lot of wheel spinning, UCLA's basketball team is facing the exact same situation as before.
The Bruins play five of their last seven games before the Pacific 10 tournament on the road while trying to remain relevant in the conference race. So reclaiming the conference championship will need to be done away from Pauley Pavilion.
That makes the spin easy heading into Sunday's game at USC.
"At home, you want to get going, you want to make a shot, you want to hear the roar of the crowd," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "Being on the road, it's us against the world. It forces you to play good and smart as a team.
That sales pitch finds a target. As senior guard Michael Roll said, "It's kind of fun on the road. We all enjoy each other and it's basketball. We enjoy the hostile crowds."
The Bruins are 6-5 in conference play, leaving them 1 1/2 games behind first-place California. UCLA has split its conference road games thus far, normally part of the formula in winning the title. But the Bruins have struggled at home, with a 4-3 record after a 72-58 loss to California last Saturday.
Center James Keefe re-injured his shoulder during practice on Friday and is now questionable for Sunday's game. Keefe will not practice on Saturday, and Howland said if he was still experiencing pain he would not play against the Trojans.
Taking his shot
Howland blamed impatience, in part, for a 28-point swing against the Bears -- UCLA blew a 14-point first half lead. The Bruins shot 47% for the game, but made only nine of 21 shots in the second half.
"We took a number of ill-advised shots," Howland said. "As soon as it got tight [in the second half], Mike Roll took a bad shot. Nikola Dragovic took a bad shot. Those are the guys who are expected to be our leadership. They have to calm us down and make sure we get a good one."
Still, the poor-shooting defense is contradicted by the fact that UCLA leads in field goal percentage in conference games, shooting 49%. While Dragovic was a dreadful one for eight from the field against California, Roll made nine of 14 shots and was the only Bruin in double figures with 20 points.
Still, Howland insists a better effort is needed. "They are our two best shooters, and we want them to take shots," he said. "But we want them to be patient and take open shots."
Dragovic, a steady 45% shooter a year ago, has meandered through his senior season. He has been good, as when he made seven of 11 from the field against Arizona State. But more often he has been bad, as when he missed all six of his shots against USC.
He said he can trace his troubles to before the season, to the Oct. 24 altercation outside a concert venue in Los Angeles. He was has pleaded not guilty to an assault charge, claiming self-defense when he wrestled a man into a glass case.
"The whole season started off bad with the legal issues I got myself into," Dragovic said. "There was a lot to deal with, school, the next quarter. I couldn't get into the gym as much. That is all my fault. But I'm still trying to bounce back."
Forward Reeves Nelson, who suffered a concussion against California, was cleared for full contact in practice Thursday and is expected to play against USC. . . . UCLA is headed for one of its lowest home attendance figures since Pauley Pavilion opened in 1965. The Bruins are averaging 8,045 fans this season. In only two other seasons have they averaged fewer: 7,855 in 1987-88 and 7,810 in 1992-93.