The UCLA basketball team has this week off, which should give the Bruins plenty of time to figure out the answer to a question that has eluded much of the Pac-12 this season: How do you win on the road?
Pac-12 road teams are 5-17 in conference games this season, and last week became roadkill Thursday as conference title leaders Washington, Stanford and California all lost road games at Colorado, Oregon State and Oregon, respectively.
It's never easy to win road games, but this year seems especially difficult as the .227 road winning percentage through the first two weeks of Pac-12 play is well below the .355 road winning percentage in conference games from last season.
And that isn't good news for UCLA, which has lost both of it's road games so far this season and will embark on its longest road trip of the season with games at USC, Oregon State and Oregon during a seven-day span from Jan. 15-21.
"At this point it feels like the Pac-12 is up for grabs so we need all these wins, especially the road games," guard Tyler Lamb said. "Those are going to very important for us."
Last season, UCLA went 5-4 in conference road games en route to a second place finish. League champion Arizona also went 5-4. Bruins coach Ben Howland predicted the the conference champion would have four or five losses this season, so UCLA (9-7, 2-2) will need to pile up some road wins in order to reach that goal.
Judging by early league results, that won't be an easy task as there appears to be quite a bit of parity among the conference teams and home court advantage seems to have played a role in determining the outcomes of games and might very well decide the conference race.
"If we can take care of our home court and then go on the road and get some wins we can be a contender for that top spot," forward Travis Wear said. "It’s big to be able to go on the road and get a couple of W's in the conference. That could be a determining factor in the end."
The Bruins don't have much experience on the road this season. They played at Stanford and California on Dec. 29 and 31 and that's it. Their one-point loss at Stanford in their road opener really stings because it was a chance to get over the road hump early. UCLA played three neutral-court games in the Maui Invitational, but otherwise hasn't left the state of California.
"We’ll have a big test coming up soon," guard Lazeric Jones said. "We play SC there but it doesn’t feel too much like an away game because we’re still in L.A. It’s a bus ride. But when you have to take a plane, two planes to get places and stay on the road, that’s when it’s kind of different. We’ll have a big test when we go to Oregon with all the traveling and having to keep together mentally."
This whole season has been a test to keep it together for UCLA. The Bruins are playing all of their games off campus as Pauley Pavilion undergoes a yearlong renovation. Most of UCLA's home games are at the Sports Arena, but some were at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Because of the way the schedule worked out, UCLA is in the middle of a month-long stretch away from the Sports Arena adding an even more vagabond-like feel to the season.
But having played seven games at the Sports Arena will help the Bruins feel a bit more at ease as they head to the Galen Center Sunday for their game at USC. The Sports Arena is just a stone's throw from the Galen Center and the Bruins will be staying at the same hotel they have been staying at the night before Sports Arena games.
"That should help us a little," forward David Wear said. "It’s just right across the street from the Galen Center where we’ve been playing and it’s not going to be that difficult staying in the hotel the night before. Obviously the atmosphere of the crowd is going to be much different, but nothing that we haven’t seen this year."