Two years after falling to depths almost unheard of at UCLA, the Bruins are right back atop the mountain. At least the media says so.
UCLA was chosen to be the inaugural Pac-12 champion in the preseason media poll, released on Friday at the conference’s Media Day at L.A. Live.
The Bruins don’t have much hypothetical breathing room, however, receiving 421 points, including 14 first-place votes, while the Cal Bears were tabbed for second at 405 points (13 first-place), one point ahead of 2011 Pac-10 regular-season champion Arizona (404, 11).
“Our team always has high expectations,” said Howland, a year after the Bruins were picked 3rd in the preseason media poll coming off a 14-18 season. “It’s the expectations we put on ourselves that matter most. It’s always nice to be picked high, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s where you finish. I don’t know who was picked for first last year, but I don’t know how many times you guys get it right.”
After the disappointing 2009-10 campaign, UCLA rallied to win 23 games last season, finishing second in the conference race, before falling to Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
With a powerful front line led by junior leading scorer and rebounder Reeves Nelson (13.9 points per game, 9.1 rebounds), sophomore center Joshua Smith and North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear, the Bruins are the pick to emerge from a conference that loses extensive firepower.
Gone are Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Momo Jones, Washington’s Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, USC’s Nikola Vucevic, Washington State’s Klay Thompson and Stanford’s Jeremy Green.
UCLA was not immune to the mass exit, though, with small forward Tyler Honeycutt and guard Malcolm Lee gone.
“I like our squad,” Howland said. “Obviously, it would be great if we still had Malcolm and Tyler Honeycutt. Then we would really be good. But that being said, we are where we are, and I’m still optimistic about our team.”
Howland said that sophomore backup center and key defensive stopper Anthony Stover has a small cartilage tear in his left shoulder after having tests done on Thursday before the team’s scrimmage against Cal State Fullerton. Howland said Stover is expected to miss a few weeks.
Howland added that David Wear, who averaged 2.9 points in 10.4 minutes for the Tar Heels in 2009-10 and redshirted last season after transferring, played all of his minutes at the small forward position for the Bruins in their scrimmage against the Titans at the Sports Arena.
Wear, at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, played sound defense, Howland said, and he should give the Bruins a sizable option at the position, along with De’End Parker, who is still sidelined with a concussion.