Part of the fun of college football is looking ahead to next season.
Well UCLA fans, perhaps it’s time to avert your eyes.
Despite all the positive inertia developed in Rick Neuheisel: Year 2 – a 7-6 record including an EagleBank Bowl win after the 4-8 mockery that was last season – the Bruins are lined up for a difficult 2010.
Of UCLA’s 11 All-Pac-10 selections, just five return, including only three who were named to the first or second teams – sophomore safety Rahim Moore, junior kicker Kai Forbath and freshman punter Jeff Locke.
Goodbye, Reggie Carter and Alterraun Verner. So long, Brian Price and Korey Bosworth. Sayonara, Terrence Austin and Xavier Su’a-Filo.
“It’s going to be a definite challenge to get all those guys replaced and to play the same kind of consistent defense and even try to improve,” UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said. “That’s going to be a tall order. We’ll have to do a great job in the offseason of not only evaluating our talent but our scheme.”
UCLA viewed the opening of the Pac-10 schedule as a second chance, a new beginning, a rebirth of sorts.
Well bust out the shower presents, these baby Bruins have arrived.
After a stunning shooting performance in the first half, UCLA held on to defeat visiting Arizona State, 72-70, in the Pac-10 opener at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday afternoon.
Riding the hot hand of senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who found a comfort zone in the corner and shot 5-for-5 from the 3-point line in the first half for 16 points and 23 for the game, UCLA shot 83.3 percent from the field and hit 8-of-10 threes.
With guards Jerime Anderson, Michael Roll and Malcolm Lee penetrating the lane and kicking out to the perimeter, the Bruins got uncontested looks.
Even better, they made them.
“Our attack of the zone was good with Mike, Jerime and Malcolm,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “We should be a good team against the zone. I expect us to be a good shooting team. But 15-for-18 in a half? I didn’t expect that.”
UCLA hit 83.3 percent of its shots – including 8-of-10 3-pointers – to maintain a 42-31 lead over Arizona State at the half.
Nikola Dragovic leads the Bruins with 16 points and Malcolm Lee has 11, as the perimeter passing has been sharp.
Moving into a 2-3 zone midway through the first half, UCLA simply shut down the Sun Devils, who are shooting 44.4 percent. Rihards Kuksiks is the only ASU player in double figures, with 15 points, and seems to be the only one who has solved the zone defense.
UCLA has gone up 26-16 on Arizona State as its perimeter offense and defense are both on point.
Nikola Dragovic just hit a 26-foot 3-pointer, and the Bruins have stifled ASU on the outside, as the Sun Devils have scored just five points in the last 7 minutes.
Nikola Dragovic has opened the Pac-10 opener on fire, knocking down his first four 3-pointers and drawing a foul on one to lead the team with 13 points early against Arizona State.
The Bruins are playing well offensively, but their perimeter help defense has been poor.