After playing overmatched opponents in their last two games, the Longhorns head to California this weekend to take on a college basketball powerhouse in UCLA.
Although, it’s not what it used to be.
The Bruins — who are eighth all-time with 1,709 wins — haven’t been their usual selves in recent years, failing to reach the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and getting out to a slow start this year with a 2-4 record. They began their season with back-to-back losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee and then, after a win, got pounced by both Kansas and Michigan.
The game Saturday will be a far cry from 2007’s thriller, in which the Longhorns knocked off UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, 63-61. Texas was ranked No. 8 at the time, UCLA No. 1. Both schools come into this game unranked. And, because of renovations to Pauley, the game will be played at Los Angeles Sports Arena — which might lessen UCLA’s home advantage.
The Bruins have talent — Travis and David Wear are twin transfers from North Carolina and Reeves Nelson averaged 14 points a game last season — but don’t have anybody who can individually match J’Covan Brown, assuming the junior guard is on his best game. Brown began the season by posting point totals of 28 and 35 in his first two matches, but has cooled off since, scoring just six points in a win over North Texas.
“I don’t really think he’s not shooting as well. I think he’s just picking his spots,” said freshman Jonathan Holmes. “It’s a long season, and I think he understands that.”
Brown’s teammates said he was in good spirits after the game, which is a good sign for Texas (4-2). Assuming Brown can’t find his shot for the third straight game, expect more and more touches for emerging post threats Holmes, Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene. Holmes is a skilled freshman who possesses an outside touch, Wangmene is a nice banger inside and Chapman is a finesse player who makes up for his defensive deficiencies with a nice shooting touch. Two games ago, Wangmene hit a career high with 13 points.
“I try to score when I get the chance to do so,” Wangmene said. “That’s one of the things I worked on all summer long. I had to make sure I am able to finish around the rim and make some free throws. I just wanted to add something to the team.”
Added Chapman: “Offensively, we have guys that can score.”
The weekend will be of particular importance for Chapman and Wangmene, the lone seniors on the team. Both are set to graduate this weekend but, due to the game, won’t be able to participate in their ceremonies.
Wangmene walked last spring and Chapman plans to walk this coming May.