Young teams are not supposed to be so poised on the road.
UCLA is proving to be quite an exception in the Pac-10.
The 13th-ranked Bruins (19-4, 9-2) try to improve to 5-0 on the road in conference play Thursday when they begin a stretch of three straight contests away from home with a matchup against Washington State (10-9, 3-7).
Coach Ben Howland has seen seven players get injured this season and lost starting forward Josh Shipp—who played just four games—for the rest of the season in January. UCLA has rotated five freshmen and four sophomores, but finds itself atop the Pac-10 by two games.
That success can be attributed to the Bruins’ play outside of Los Angeles.
UCLA has held its four Pac-10 opponents to an average of 60.5 points on their respective home courts, and is now trying to start 5-0 on the road in conference play for the first time since the 1991-92 season—when it won the first six en route to a league title and regional final appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Despite the road success and being at the top of the Pac-10, Ryan Hollins— one of two seniors on the Bruins—knows complacency can ruin what UCLA has achieved thus far.
“We can’t even think about being in first place, because you saw Washington lost two games last weekend,” Hollins said. “You got to bring it every night, you can’t concede any game or just assume that we’re going to win it.”
The Bruins also protected their home court last week with a 69-60 win over Arizona State on Thursday and an 84-73 victory over Arizona on Saturday.
“We’re heading in a positive direction, but the sweep doesn’t mean we’re there,” said sophomore forward Arron Afflalo, who scored a career-high 27 points on Saturday.
Following this contest, UCLA visits Washington on Saturday and then meets rival Southern California on Feb. 19.
Washington State snapped a six-game losing streak with a 77-64 upset of then-No. 16 Washington on Saturday, sweeping the season series from their rivals. Josh Akognon scored 14 points and Aron Baynes added 13 and a career-high 12 rebounds for the Cougars, whose skid started after winning Jan. 7 at Washington.
“I hope we don’t go into a tailspin,” Washington State coach Dick Bennett said Tuesday. “Obviously we didn’t take much out of it last time.”
Despite the losing Pac-10 record, Washington State’s slow-tempo style of play has given it a chance to win most of its games. Four of the seven conference losses by the Cougars have been by five points or fewer, including a 63-61 defeat to the Bruins on Jan. 12 at Pauley Pavilion.
“We lost a lot of close games,” Bennett said. “We’ve not been beaten badly by anyone. Probably we won’t do anything different.”
UCLA has won 24 of the last 25 games between the teams, including 12 straight at Washington State since a 67-56 defeat on Feb. 6, 1993.