Shabazz Muhammad’s long-awaited return to the court was supposed to coincide with UCLA’s long-awaited return to national relevance. Instead, his Pauley Pavilion debut corresponded with one of the most pathetic slip-ups in UCLA basketball history.
UCLA not only dropped Muhammad’s first home game as a Bruin to little-known Cal Poly of the Big West; California’s flagship program squandered an 18-point lead to do it. The Mustangs raced past the Bruins in the most shocking comeback of the college basketball season, overcoming the double-digit deficit midway through the second half to hang on to a startling 70-68 win.
In less stunning news, Ben Howland has lost his team [again], assuming he ever had control of it in the first place.
Forget “Best in the West,” a tag UCLA wore in its heyday like a bumper sticker. The Bruins aren’t even the best team in California—sitting a good distance behind San Diego State and, for at least one weekend, mighty Cal Poly.
A ballyhooed recruiting class, newly renovated Pauley Pavilion and reenergized fan base were supposed to spark a rebirth of sorts in Westwood. The freeing of Shabazz Muhammad from NCAA eligibility limbo, in theory, would serve as the catalyst for the L.A. renaissance.
But three weeks into Project “Save Howland’s Job,” more blemishes than signs of hope persist. So low have the Bruins sunk already that the team has spent the last two weeks trying to prove itself to the Big West, one of the weakest conferences in college hoops. So far, it’s failed.
UCLA needed overtime and a handful of lucky breaks to hold off one Big West opponent (UC Irvine) earlier this month. On Sunday, the Bruins lost in regulation to a Big West school picked to finished seventh in the league.
A casual observer could sense looming trouble when UCLA struggled with Georgia, possibly the worst high-major team in the country, in the Legends Classic. That’s the same Georgia team, mind you, that Youngstown State handled at home and Southern Miss outlasted in overtime during the preliminary rounds of the tournament. Of those three losses, it’s the UCLA game that Georgia would most want to have back.