Last night, UCLA dropped its fourth-straight game to rival USC. That little factoid says a lot about USC's modern improvement and emergence under now-resigned coach Tim Floyd in recent years, but it also says something about just how far the Bruins have fallen in the past two years. Once upon a time, it would have been unthinkable for a UCLA team to lose to USC ever, let alone four games in a row.
Naturally, this information probably frustrates UCLA fans. Throw in Sunday night's slightly premature on-court high-five session by the Trojans, and it certainly frustrated UCLA forward Joshua Smith, who shared that frustration with reporters after the game.
"When the other team starts to celebrate with 40 seconds left, that's just kind of a slap in the face," UCLA center Joshua Smith said. "Don't get me wrong. They won fair and square. Nothing against them. But with 40 seconds left, you just let the clock run out, shake our hands and go celebrate in the locker room."
Smith's probably right, but his complaint falls a little too close to the "if you don't like it, beat us," end of the bad sportsmanship spectrum. If you don't like the other team hamming it up before the final buzzer sounds, play better during the 40 minutes that preceded it. Considering Smith's foul trouble throughout the night -- he spent much of the game on the bench before eventually fouling out, and told reporters that Sunday's referees were "honestly terrible" -- he might do well to follow that advice.
But I'm not criticizing. In fact, I'm glad Smith said something, not only about the refs but about his rivals. In a world of anodyne postgame quotes and "we just played hard" half-answers, Smith's are lively, interesting and -- most importantly -- honest. Keep it up, big fella.
In the meantime, UCLA is now 9-6 with games at Oregon State and at Oregon up next. Those should be winnable (though who knows what will happen when the Beavers take the floor in Pac-10 play at home), but "should" isn't the word most UCLA fans will be looking for. The Bruins have a variety of problems they need to correct, chief among them their lack of care with the ball on offense (UCLA's turnover rate is 21.4) and their inability to turn opponents over on defense (opponents' turnover rate: 19.2).
This team isn't as bad as last year's ugly 14-win effort, but the strides it seemed to make in its near-win at Kansas on Dec. 2 aren't showing up in conference play. If things don't get turned around in conference soon, this is likely to end up as just another rebuilding year for UCLA, a place that, like "should," doesn't much care for the word "rebuilding," either.