The Loss Resonates

UCLA loses to USC for the first time in ten years in Pauley Pavilion, 80-75. The loss really hits a chord on many different levels -- for the team, the season, the coach and the program...

This loss resonates on many levels.


First, it put a distinct final note to the tune that many UCLA fans dared to hum after the two wins against the Washington schools on the road. 


As we said in the review of the Washington State game, that game provided just as much to worry about as any of the disheartening non-conference losses.  It was actually premature, at the very least, to believe that this team had made some significant improvements on that road trip. It might be more accurate to conclude, as we did in the reviews of the games, that the Washington teams are just plainly pretty bad.  


While we've always believed it's folly to make any kind of conclusions early in the season, this USC game might have given us enough evidence to draw some early season conclusions safely.  It's probably pretty safe to conclude at this point that this team isn't plainly very good, and it might be too much to expect it to improve dramatically during this season.  It has some considerable problems – problems on the court that not only are a result of its personnel, but coaching and internal conflicts.   You never want to count out a team this early in the season, and having done that in the past with Steve Lavin as the coach would be folly in itself. But this year the Lavin model doesn't look like it's got the horse power or the gas to make a run at the finish line. 


The loss also resonates very distinctly on UCLA's chances at an NCAA berth.


Currently at 4-6, and with 17 games remaining on its regular-season schedule, to hope to have a shot at an NCAA tournament berth UCLA would have to, at the very least, win 11 of those remaining 17 games. From here on out, it would have to go 11-6.  While it's not impossible, it's particularly unlikely.  Watching this team, and with their capabilities now sinking in, the best case scenario you could imagine would be if UCLA swept the Washington schools at home, and split every other weekend the rest of the season.  That would mean probably a sweep against Arizona State and Oregon State; two wins from among St. John's, at Georgetown and at USC; one win on the Bay Area trip, and one against the Bay Area schools at home.  If UCLA achieved this, it would still only go 10-7 for the rest of the season, and finish with a 14-13 record.  To make the NCAA tournament with such a record, it would have to win the Pac-10 tournament.  


Conceiving of any worse of a scenario is just plainly too ugly.  And we don't even want to think about the NCAA record of 54 consecutive winning seasons.


The loss very much resonates on the program, and on Steve Lavin's status.


Last night, UCLA lost to USC for the first time in 10 years at Pauley Pavilion.  It felt particularly bad losing to USC since UCLA had been trashed by USC in football just about a month and a half ago, and UCLA fans have had to tolerate Trojans boasting about the return of their football program. In the wake of that, to see Trojan basketball players dancing and skipping across Pauley Pavilion's floor was like a punch in the stomach. 


The feeling after this game was actually very similar to the feeling after the loss to USC in football. And that feeling was profound enough to be the catalyst in getting a football coach fired.


In fact, if you take much of what athletic director Dan Guerrero stipulated were the reasons that he fired Bob Toledo and just apply them to the beginning of this season, and to this game, Steve Lavin is also miserably failing to meet those standards. 


Guerrero wants his student athletes to "fire out," play hard every minute on the field or court.  The Bruins were a stark contrast to USC in "firing out" last night. USC showed its resilience, toughness and desire, while UCLA showed very little when it needed it. 


Guerrero emphasizes defense.  UCLA played very little of it last night, allowing USC's best shooters to get open looks and allowing USC to dribble penetrate into the paint almost at will at times. 


When asked at the press conference when he announced the firing of Bob Toledo if he thought the football team had actually over-achieved given that they were picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10, Guerrero said, essentially, that UCLA should never be picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10.  UCLA should never be at 4-6 with four losses having come in the shadows of those championship banners at Pauley Pavilion. The UCLA basketball program should never lose in Pauley Pavilion to a USC team that will probably finish the Pac-10 season out of the top five spots in the conference.  Never should UCLA have to tolerate the type of season it's experiencing right now.


Guerrero emphasized how he believed Toledo's history was something his program would not be able to overcome and it needed a fresh start. The basketball program, in comparison, has lost its support among its fans, even the majority of the previously ardent Lavin supporters. The UCLA student section has chanted "Fire Lavin." Boos and catcalls are common in Pauley.  Lavin ball, that sloppy style of basketball, has become UCLA's infamous trademark.  UCLA's name is practically dead in the water in recruiting circles.  


There are reports of dissension and problems in the program. Coaches are squabbling. One assistant coach wants out badly.  Players are blaming the coaches. Coaches are blaming the players.  Players aren't listening to the coaches and don't respect them. A couple of players have indicated they'll transfer next year if there isn't a change.  Coaches have said openly that they expect to be fired.  Lavin is, understandably, very tense.   And there is so much more attached to this program that goes back years that isn't even worth dredging up. 


I there was ever a program screaming out for a fresh start, this is it.  


So, this loss definitely hit a sharp chord in many different respects.  It will be interesting to see if the note is loud enough.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories