- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It’s the college basketball version of a bye week for UCLA.
The Bruins, who defeated the Stanford Cardinal 88-80 on Saturday, won’t take the court again until they play USC on Sunday, which makes for a rare eight-day break between games.
The week of the USC matchup has, in the past, offered an opportunity for the Bruins to play a marquee nonconference game, normally televised by CBS. This year, however, the Bruins didn't schedule such a game during either USC week and, because the schedule has this week’s game on Sunday, it makes for a college basketball eternity in between games.
“I like the idea,” coach Ben Howland said. “Historically, in my tenure, we always had an intersectional game for TV to make some extra CBS money, per se. I’m glad that we get this time. I think it’s good for teams this time of year.”
Howland said he’s taking it easy the first few days -- getting back to fundamental drills and noncontact practices -- but will ramp up preparation on Thursday. He gave the team a day off on Sunday, held practice Monday and Tuesday and will give them another day off Wednesday.
Howland said it’s a perfect time for a long break because it gives the players a chance to freshen their legs and to brush up on some of the things that need improvement as they head into the stretch run of the season -- less than a month from postseason play.
They are working on reading screens, proper passing and executing plays based on the opposing defense. They have played a lot of “5-on-0,” Howland said, just to make the offensive sets crisper.
“We did a lot of skill development the last two days,” Howland said. “All sorts of little things that are the details that matter so much that sometimes, because you are preparing for the next game and games just keep coming at you, you don’t get a chance to do that much during the season. So this was great. I really liked it.”
Last year, the Bruins played USC on a Wednesday, then had to fly across the country to play at St. John’s three days later. In years past, they have played Notre Dame, West Virginia, Georgetown, Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and Duke as the second game during the USC week. Travis Wear said those types of games are great, but there are definite advantages to having a week to work out the kinks, especially for a young team with consistency issues.
“It’s awesome not to have to fly anywhere, just stay here and work on our game,” Wear said. “I like this. Especially coming off a week that we could have played much better. I think everyone is focused, and I think that’s important that we come in here and have some focused and intense practices going into SC.”
Muhammad misses practice: Freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad sat out of practice Tuesday because of conjunctivitis (pink eye), Howland said. The team is off Wednesday, and Howland said he is hopeful to have Muhammad in the gym on Thursday.
“His eye is swollen,” Howland said. “He wasn’t allowed to practice. He had to take his contacts out of his eyes because of the irritating effect on his pink eye. We’re hopeful that it’ll be resolved when we reconvene on Thursday for practice.”
Howland said Muhammad might have been able to practice through the infection if he had some protective goggles, but he doesn’t even own a pair of glasses. The ones he occasionally wears have no lenses.
“If he had a pair of glasses he could have practiced today,” Howland said. “He doesn’t own a normal pair of glasses, so we’ve got to help him get a pair for these kinds of emergencies. He has the fashion glasses.”