|Cal Poly's Chris Eversley throws up a floater as UCLA fails to so much as get a hand up. (Getty Images)|
If that picture seems too big, let it be. Let it lord over the page like Cal Poly lords over UCLA at the moment. The photo is perfect, a document of contemporary Bruins woe. One man surrounded by three Bruins, all of them letting the play happen, letting the loss unfold.
What an upset college hoops saw late Sunday night. It should have never been, but that's pretty much the saga UCLA carries within the program these days. A top-tier recruiting class, a renovated Pauley Pavilion, a season full of promise and talk of rebirth, growth and restoring ghosts, etc., etc., etc.
Forget it all. Even at 4-2, UCLA's a garbage disposal on fire right now. The Bruins just lost to Cal Poly. Lost at home to Cal Poly. Lost at home to Cal Poly for the first time in UCLA history. Lost to Cal Poly period for the first time in program history. Who'd have guessed the first team to win at new Pauley Pavilion would be these anonymous guys?
And not only that, but UCLA blew an 18-point lead with 12 minutes to go. It was the kind of collapse only the most disappointing programs can supply. The final score: 70-68, Mustangs. Yes, Cal Poly's nickname is the Mustangs, which you probably didn't know until now. You very well could've been uncertain Cal Poly even played basketball -- or that there was something called "Cal Poly." (They play in the Big West, by the by.)
Dear lord is Ben Howland in a mess now. The UCLA coach pretty much has to make the NCAAs to keep his job this year, and losses like this do huge damage to reputation and stability in the here and now. Not to mention, it's a real resume-killer when it comes time to pick the teams that go to the NCAAs.
There's zero reason -- absolutely zero -- for a team with all the talent, the future pros, UCLA should lose to Cal Poly, which has never reached the NCAA tournament, let alone had a 20-win season in D-I. (They made the move in 1994.)
And good on the Mustangs for getting a W that could ultimately make their season. But UCLA is the story, and UCLA's story again is an underachieving quagmire of a club that in no way resembles the UCLA that reclaimed its rank among the nation's best programs when it went to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08.
We've gone through this before with Howland and UCLA. It's been an uncertain ride for the past few years, only this time the recruits are there and everyone's patience has about run out. Well, the worst loss of them all has hopefully come to roost. Only thing now is to hope Howland can coach -- actually coach; really, truly, fully coach -- his team out of the dark and get a bunch of four- and five-star recruits to jell like the way they do in Lexington, Lawrence, Durham and Bloomington.
If not? If things don't turn for the positive and the culture doesn't shift in the immediate future, then it's another year lost, and more proof that Howland's time has unfortunately past him by. UCLA fans and boosters have already been pacing for a few years now. Tonight gave them legitimate reason to slam the panic button.