UCLA head coach Ben Howland protests a call during a game against Washington. (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
SEATTLE — You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, not around Westwood.
Bruins fans were at their giddiest this season after the Bruins defeated Arizona a week ago. All it took was one trip to Pullman, Wash., to bring out pessimism in the ranks.
The Bruins' 73-61 loss to Washington State — the Pac-12's last-place team — Wednesday was an embarrassing moment for a team that seemed on solid footing.
Yet, with a victory over Washington on Saturday, the Bruins can clinch at least a share of the conference title. UCLA has not beaten the Huskies in Seattle since 2004. The Bruins enter Saturday's game tied with Oregon for first place.
Some expectations have already been met. UCLA was picked to finish second by the media before the season and will be no worse than tied for second after Saturday. There is a segment of the fan base that isn't satisfied, though its size can be debated.
Coach Ben Howland moves on quickly from any question about how he handles often-changing opinions of his, and the team's, performance.
"I don't respond to the extremes," Howland said. "I'm just focused on our team and things we can control." Asked why some Bruins' fans seem fickle, Howland said, "I can't speak for other people. I can only speak for myself."
There wasn't much to say after the Washington State debacle.
"I've watched the game tape twice now," Howland said. "It's hard to watch."
Still, the Bruins are not the only ones with such a game tape. It's been that kind of season in college basketball.
No. 7 Michigan was beaten at Penn State, which had been winless in Big 10 play. No. 4 Kansas flopped at Texas Christian, which is still the Horned Frogs' only Big 12 victory.
The Bruins' spot in the NCAA tournament seems a lock, no matter how the season ends. Kentucky, on the other hand, is considered a bubble team despite having the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
But the Wildcats won the 2012 national title. The Bruins missed the tournament two of the last three seasons and have not been to a Final Four since 2008.
That, it seems, is part of the restlessness.
That, though, may be changed with a victory Saturday.
"There is no excuse for the other night," Howland said. But, he said, "we still have a chance to have an outright championship or part of it or be out of it."
Forward Travis Wear will play against Washington, Howland said.
Wear left Wednesday's game against Washington State after reinjuring his right foot. Howland said that Wear practiced Friday and "made a positive step forward."
The 6-foot-10 Wear is UCLA's third-leading scorer, averaging 11.0 points per game, and second-leading rebounder, averaging 5.2 per game. He was injured in practice two weeks ago.
UCLA beat USC and Arizona State without Wear. He played 17 minutes in a victory over Arizona, but left the Washington State game with 15 minutes left and the Bruins trailing by eight. The Cougars won, 73-61.
The only way for UCLA to be the top-seeded team in the conference tournament is if the Bruins beat Washington and Oregon loses at Utah. The Ducks hold the tiebreaker with the Bruins.
A three-way tie among UCLA, Oregon and California makes California the No. 1-seeded team. The Bears are also No. 1 in a four-way tie that involves Arizona.