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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Bruins limp to finish

Gone are the days when Arizona versus UCLA meant a battle — a rivalry, if you will — for the top spot in the Pacific 10 Conference.

Gone are the Jordan Farmars and Salim Stoudamires, the Kevin Loves and Jordan Hills.

Gone is anything resembling UCLA’s three consecutive Final Four appearances last decade or Arizona’s 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Lute Olson watches these Wildcats from the seats in McKale Center. John Wooden watches these Bruins from the seats in Pauley Pavilion.

“”It really made me feel terrible,”” UCLA head coach Ben Howland told the Los Angeles Times. “”Coach Wooden’s health has not allowed him to be with us much this season, but he was here Saturday with his championship ’70 team watching us play zone defense, turning over the ball and not winning.

“”I remember looking at video later that night and seeing coach Wooden sitting there, and it really hurt me.””

From 2005 to 2008, the Bruins went 97-17 overall and 51-10 in Pac-10 — three straight 30-win seasons.

The Bruins enter tonight’s game 13-15 overall and 8-8 in the Pac-10. The last time Howland had a losing record was his first season in Westwood, Calif., — building off Steve Lavin’s first and only losing season in 2002-03.

“”You can say I know failure because that’s what it has been relative to our expectations here,”” Howland said. “”It’s no fun. I have sleepless nights wondering how the heck did we get here.

“”But all of it starts right here with me. I’m in charge of making this program competitive year after year, but I did a poor job of evaluation of some of our recruits — from a talent, as well as a character standpoint.””

This season’s struggles started from the get-go: a double-overtime loss to California State, Fullerton, followed by five straight losses to the University of Portland, Butler University, Long Beach State, University of Kansas and Mississippi State University.

As if they needed more obstacles after failing to regain traction, the Bruins were hit with injuries in the past two weeks.

• Senior James Keefe underwent season-ending shoulder surgery this week.

• Reeves Nelson will be reevaluated today after his eyes are dilated — he hasn’t practiced or been able to do anything since getting laser retinopexy on Feb. 22 to repair a retinal tear in his left eye.

• Fresh off a shoulder injury, Nikola Dragovic sprained his ankle in warm-ups this past Saturday in a loss to Oregon.

“”When you’re successful here, that’s the expectation,”” Howland said. “”Winning to me is relief, losing is like dying. It’s gut-wrenching. This is really the low point since I’ve been at UCLA — it being year seven, and not year one and starting over. I thought it would be a tough year, but not as unsuccessful as it has been.””

Now both Arizona and UCLA will use this weekend to avoid a play-in game for the Pac-10 Tournament. No team wants the task of winning four games in four days in Staples Center beginning Wednesday.

With a cluster of teams in the middle of the conference standings, this weekend could mean much more than just momentum.

“”It definitely impacts the two teams that will be in the play-in game,”” Howland said this week. “”And that’s what everyone wants to avoid.

“”I know we’ll have a problem with any team we play. It doesn’t matter who we play, it’ll be a very difficult game for us.””

Regardless, any post-season appearances — whether it be the National Invitational Tournament or CBI — aren’t on the Bruins’ radar.

“”Who knows,”” Howland said. “”We’re 13-15 overall right now. So my whole focus is to try to see if we can have a good game and get a win in Tucson which will be no easy task.””

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