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UCLA looking to erase bad memory against Stanford

UCLA guard Lazeric Jones says of the earlier loss to Stanford: "It's been eating at me for a while now." Jason O. Watson/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES--Ben Howland was saddled with the unfortunate task of watching the game film from UCLA's first go-round with Stanford this season.

"It brought back a lot of bad memories," Howland said.

Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson and the rest of the Bruins have been replaying that nightmare in their heads for the last six weeks. The Bruins lost, 60-59, at Stanford on Dec. 29 when Anderson missed a wide-open, 3-point attempt with 11 seconds left, the Bruins got the rebound and then Jones tried to drive the lane and had his shot blocked by Stanford's Josh Huestis at the buzzer.

"It’s been eating at me for a while now," Jones said.

"That’s really bothered me since that game because I had a chance to win the game," Anderson said.

The Bruins (13-10, 6-5 Pac-12) get a chance at redemption when they meet the Cardinal (16-7, 6-5) Thursday night at 8 p.m. at the Sports Arena. It begins a critical stretch during which the Bruins play five of their final eight games at home as they try to regain footing in the Pac-12 Conference standings.

It could be argued that they lost that footing in that game against Stanford because the season has been a broken record since then with UCLA getting in close road games but unable to pull out the victories. The Bruins were within a point at halftime before getting blown out by Cal, blew double-digit, second-half leads at Oregon and Washington and forgot how to play defense in a three-point loss at Oregon State.

Poor free-throw shooting also hampered the Bruins in those games, but the inability to close out games on the road haunted UCLA until the Bruins held off Washington State last Saturday in Pullman, Wash. Before that, UCLA had not defeated a Division I team away from Southern California.

"It’s a huge boost," center Anthony Stover said. "We love winning in L.A. but to win someplace else it just makes us a lot more happy. When we come out and we know we won a game on the road, it gives us a little bit of a boost."

This weekend, the Bruins will be at home to play Stanford and California in what the Bruins are looking at as revenge weekend. The players feel as if they could have won both of their earlier matchups and will be looking for redemption.

"It was a heartbreaker at Stanford last time," Stover said. "You always remember that last game. When you see that team again, the last memory is that last shot or last block in the Stanford case and you remember that when you see them on the court and you want to get that revenge really bad."

The Bruins are in dire need of some wins. They are three games behind conference-leading Washington, but, perhaps more important, they are one game out of a fourth-place tie between Oregon and Arizona. Finishing in fourth place would get UCLA a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament, fifth or lower and the Bruins would have to win four games in four days to make the NCAA tournament -- something no team has done in 14 previous tournaments.

"With the season we’re having it kind of looks like we’re going to have to win the tournament to get in [the NCAA tournament], but that’s our goal anyway," center Joshua Smith said. "Our goal is to win all of our home games, win the Pac-12 outright and win the Pac-12 tournament. We’re just going to see and ride this out as long as we can. There’s still a lot of season left and there’s still the tournament so our season is not over."

UCLA is getting Stanford at a good time. The Cardinal were 11-2 when the Bruins faced them in the Pac-12 opener for both teams, but have lost four of their last five games, including their last three road games. The Bruins, meanwhile, haven't lost a home game since Dec. 3 and have won five consecutive games at the Sports Arena. UCLA has won six consecutive home games against Stanford.

Josh Owens, a 6-foot-8 forward, leads a balanced Stanford attack with 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle are averaging 11.9 points each for Stanford, which is shooting only 40.5 percent as a team in Pac-12 play.

"They’re a hard matchup for us against with Owens, he presents problems," Howland said. "He’s really strong and playing like a senior."

UCLA utilized a zone extensively in the previous meeting against Stanford, but it came back to bite the Bruins. Stanford made 7-of-13 3-point shots in the second half, including back-to-back possessions that gave the Cardinal a 56-51 lead with 5:13 to play.

"We didn’t play as well as we can and we had a chance to win," Howland said. "I think we’re a much-improved team from that point in time and I’m sure they are, too. That was in December."

The memory of that loss, however, still stings as if it happened yesterday.

"I think it bothers anybody any time you lose and hopefully it motivates you to bounce back and want to get that sour taste out of your mouth," Howland said.