That three-game winning streak looks like nothing more than a speck in the rearview.
Just a week after emerging from an ugly, five-loss slump during the holidays, the UCLA men’s basketball team looks as disjointed as ever — losing back-to-back games at Oregon State and Oregon, and all but certainly saying goodbye to already slim March Madness hopes.
The weekend trip north resulted in arguably the Bruins’ worst two-game stretch of the season, one that saw them shoot 35.8 percent from the field while allowing 57.3 to their opponents. And it’s not as if UCLA had the excuse of facing top-notch competition (neither the Beavers nor the Ducks are ranked) or being worn out by travel (a seven-day layoff before Thursday’s loss). And yet, this is a team that — as presently constructed — does not look capable of doing anything right on either end of the court.
It is easy to point at the absence of Tony Parker as the reason for the Bruins’ struggles. The junior center had been in the middle of what looked like a career breakthrough, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games and helping UCLA establish a consistent inside-out offensive attack. But during individual workouts this past weekend, he began suffering from back spasms and remained at home while his teammates flew up to the Beaver State.
Without Parker to draw any attention in the post, freshman forward Kevon Looney fouled out in both games — leaving Saturday’s 82-64 loss in Eugene with nearly eight minutes left on the clock. The Bruins settled for bad outside shots and missed most of them, shooting 11 of 42 from beyond the arc against Oregon and Oregon State. They couldn’t move the ball, totaling 19 assists against 19 turnovers. Against the Ducks, middling wingman Noah Allen led the team with three assists.
But so much of defense often comes down to discipline and desire, and UCLA showed little of either in its past two games.
Senior guard Norman Powell, the team’s best athlete on-ball defender, pointed that out after losing to the Ducks:
Powell on Oregon's 75% 1st half shooting:"That's basically them getting HORSE shots. nobody in their face, nobody putting pressure on them."
— Kevin Bowman (@kbo123) January 24, 2015
This was a crucial stretch for UCLA’s postseason hopes. Even without Parker, the Bruins fielded a more talented roster than either of their opponents. That won’t be the case this coming Thursday, when UCLA will host a Utah squad that ran away with a 71-39 blowout in Salt Lake City earlier this month. Saturday’s rematch with Colorado won’t be easy either; the Bruins lost to the Buffs even when the latter lacked starting forward Josh Scott.
For those keeping an eye even further down the schedule, kenpom.com currently projects UCLA finishing at 16-15 to end the regular season. This would be the team’s worst record since going 13-17 in 2009-10.
RELATED: Examining Tony Parker’s importance to UCLA, which resonates even more strongly now given his two-game absence to back spasms.