UCLA finally did something that it hadn't done all season: beat a ranked opponent. Doesn't seem right, does it? It's not like the Bruins play a Utah State-like schedule, dodging powerhouses and choosing to beat some of the Weak Sisters of the Poor. And Cal Poly.
Yet, here in late February, the Bruins finally notched that elusive win over a Top-25 foe, beating Washington, 85-76. UCLA was able to avenge an earlier loss in Seattle, when the Huskies made a conga line to the charity stripe -- something reminiscent of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, only not as funny.
The free throws, this time, were evenly distributed as the Bruins held off a late second-half surge by the Huskies.
UCLA also remains in the hunt for a fourth consecutive Pac-10 title, though somebody might want to let Ben Howland know they don't hang conference championship banners in Westwood. The Bruins have much larger goals.
And they needed this win.
Beating a ranked opponent finally got that monkey off the Bruins' backs. They certainly didn't want to go into the NCAA tournament with that "Haven't beaten a Top-25 team" graphic shoved down our throats. Not that CBS would ever do something so underhanded during its tournament broadcast.
The Bruins needed to prove to themselves that they are capable of beating one of the big boys. UCLA had proven its meddle against lesser teams such as USC and Notre Dame, and that's fine if the Bruins were angling for an NIT title. But if another run to the Final Four is going to be possible, UCLA needed to make that first step by beating a ranked opponent -- especially one that has give them fits over the years.
I'm actually kind of curious to what this does to the Bruins. We've seen stretches of brilliance sandwiched by utter ineptitude; just when we've all thought that UCLA has turned a corner, it falls off the wagon. So I'm going to keep the hyperbole to a minimum here. This was an important victory, yes, but the Bruins haven't shown the ability to take these season-changing, marquee wins and turn it into something special.
We've all learned that the wait-and-see approach is best with this team.
On the recruiting front, it looks like UCLA is out of the running for Renardo Sidney. The 6-foot-11 prospect could be heading across town to USC, which is good for the Trojans, who should enjoy reeling in these kind of prospects before probation eventually hits.