The UCLA Bruins face their old coach today as coach Steve Lavin returns to Westwood, bringing his St. John's Red Storm to Pauley Pavilion. Both teams are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, which makes today's game even more important. The Bruins have won six of their last seven games, including a 64-50 home win over USC on Wednesday.
UCLA's win on Wednesday was only the first phase of what Bruins Nation called "the most crucial week of Ben Howland's career at UCLA":
Along with last month's game at Kansas, these are the biggest games of the regular season for the Bruins. While the opponents would typically be enough to get the attention of this community and the greater Bruin Nation, the fact is that this week also marks a turning point for this team, for good or for bad. Not only due to the psychological impact of the opponents (not to mention the ever changing mental state of this team), but because of the impact of these games on UCLA's chances to get into the Big Dance, they will have an enormous impact for Howland's long term prospects in Westwood. He has no margin for error this week.
Lavin won 158 games in seven seasons at UCLA, advancing to the Sweet 16 five different times. However, after winning the Pac-10 in Lavin's first season in 1996-97, UCLA didn't finish higher than third place in the conference under Lavin after that. This is his first season with the Red Storm, who are 13-8, and 5-5 in the Big East. St. John's leads the all-time series with UCLA 6-2, winning the last six meetings, but the two schools haven't played since 2004.
UCLA guard Lazeric Jones sprained his left wrist against the Trojans on Wednesday, and had x-rays taken after the game. Those x-rays came back negative, and Jones returned to practice on Friday, and is expected to start today's contest against St. John's. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who leads the Bruins in scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounds (8.4), is shooting 62.4% from the field over his last 10 games, during which the Bruins are 7-3.
The Red Storm have four seniors in their regular starting lineup, led by guard Dwight Hardy (15.0 points per game) and forward Justin Brownlee (13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds per contest). St. John's dismantled Duke at home last Saturday, 93-78. UCLA is 11-2 at home this season, while St. John's is just 2-5 on the road. Today's 10 a.m. PST game will be televised on CBS, with Ian Eagle and Greg Anthony on the call.
For more information on today's game, be sure to read Bruins Nation.