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Coach Ben Howland neither disappointed nor satisfied with Bruins' position

UCLA has won eight of its last nine games to move into second place in Pac-10, perhaps slightly exceeding expectations. But Howland isn't exceedingly enthusiastic about it, saying, 'We are where we are.'

February 11, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt (23) celebrates after forcing a turnover in the second half of a 64-54 victory over Oregon on Thursday.
UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt (23) celebrates after forcing a turnover… (Associated Press )

And now, deep thoughts, by Ben Howland.

The UCLA coach didn't contemplate much Friday when asked whether his team was ahead of schedule compared to where he thought it would be at this point in Pacific 10 Conference play.

"We are where we are," Howland said. "We'd like to be 11-0 right now."

The Bruins' 8-3 conference record is good for second place in the Pac-10, a game behind Arizona and one-half game ahead of third-place Washington.

It seems reasonable to suggest that UCLA is slightly exceeding expectations considering it was picked to finish third in the Pac-10, behind the Huskies and Wildcats.

The Bruins (17-7 overall) are certainly among the hottest teams in the country. They have won four consecutive games, eight of nine and 14 of their last 17 heading into a matchup against Oregon State (9-14, 4-8) on Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.

The sustained success has boosted UCLA's Ratings Percentage Index figure to 40, according to RPI expert Jerry Palm, and the Bruins appear to be ensconced in every NCAA tournament projection.

So, can UCLA aim higher than merely returning to the postseason? Say, winning the Pac-10?

"I think the Pac-10 was always our focus," junior guard Jerime Anderson said Thursday night after the Bruins' 64-54 victory over Oregon. "I think the NCAA tournament will take care of itself if we do what our goal is, and that's to win the league."

UCLA's title chances will hinge largely on games against Arizona on Feb. 26 at Pauley Pavilion and against Washington on March 3 in Seattle.

Of course, the significance of those games will be diminished if the Bruins can't dispose of Oregon State. The Beavers have lost eight of their last 10 games and are 0-5 on the road in Pac-10 play.

Not that Howland is counting.

"They are a team that is very dangerous," Howland said. "They really worry me."

Howland pointed to the explosiveness of guard Jared Cunningham and the contingent of Southern California natives on the Beavers' roster: guard Calvin Haynes (Woodland Hills Taft High), forward Omari Johnson (Los Angeles Dorsey), guard Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara) and forward Joe Burton (Hemet West Valley).

"They have a lot of kids that want to come back home and play well in front of family and friends," Howland said.

The Beavers wiped out a 17-point second-half deficit when the teams played last month in Corvallis, eventually taking a two-point lead before the Bruins pulled out a 62-57 victory.

"We have to try to come out and get on top of them early and not let them come back like we did the last time," guard Lazeric Jones said.

Jones' shooting touch returned Thursday against Oregon, the junior making three of four shots after missing all six of his attempts against St. John's last weekend.

But Jones said he was having trouble passing with his left hand because the heavy tape on his wrist prevented him from bending it.

"I'm just trying to get through it," he said. "Hopefully I can put it out of my mind and play like it's not there."

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