UCLA has dubbed this basketball season "The Bruins Road Show" because the team is playing all of its games away from campus while Pauley Pavilion undergoes a renovation, but the Bruins hit the road for real for the first time this season as they open Pac-12 Conference play at Stanford on Thursday night and follow with a Saturday game at California.
These will be the first true road games of the season for UCLA (7-5), which played three neutral-site games at the Maui Invitational and has been the designated home game in seven games at the Sports Arena and two at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
The Bruins, however, aren't all that concerned about playing on the road considering every game they have played so far this season has felt like a road game as they have stayed in hotels before each one.
"I’m hoping that because we’ve played all of our games in a little more difficult situation than everybody else in their homes games that it will help us some as we go into this," coach Ben Howland said. "The only difference is we’ll have fans yelling at us when we go on the road this time and we’ll take a short plane ride."
It would behoove the Bruins if, indeed, the home-away-from-home experience has helped prepare them for the road because UCLA plays five of its next seven games on the road. The two home games during that stretch will be at the Honda Center, UCLA's secondary home this season, meaning the Bruins will go from Dec. 23 to Jan. 26 without playing on the Sports Arena court where they play the majority of their home games this season.
"It’s definitely prepared us a lot because I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in a hotel lately," forward David Wear said. "It’s been good. It’s not going to be anything new to us being in hotels before a game and going through walkthroughs and stuff like that, so it will be good."
Making things even more difficult for the Bruins will be the competition they face during their travels. On the docket are road games against Stanford (10-2) and California (10-3) followed by Honda Center games against Arizona (9-4) and Arizona State (4-8), a road game at USC (5-8) and then a road trip to Oregon State (10-2) and Oregon (9-3).
So, over the next seven games, UCLA will play the conference teams with the five best records heading into Pac-12 play with four of those games on the road and one at the Honda Center.
"How about that?" Howland said. "We’re playing the top part of our league starting right off the get go."
The players welcome the challenge of getting tested right out of the gate in conference play. UCLA was picked to win the conference before the season but stumbled early and lost some luster on the national stage. A current five-game win streak has restored some order, but a good start with their Pac-12 schedule and the Bruins could be back in the top-25 conversation.
"I think this is the best thing for us and for our team right now," guard Jerime Anderson said. "Give us the biggest test. They say this is the biggest test, this road trip for us, so give it to us. I think our team is ready and I think we can show a lot."