Bruins take a quick peek at road ahead

UCLA coach Jim Mora said this week's game at ASU "has a lot of ramifications down the road." Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- Just in case any of the UCLA Bruins didn't realize the importance of Saturday's game against Arizona State, coach Jim Mora issued a little reminder.

He told his team this week that the Bruins still control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South race and that there are some good things in store for UCLA should the Bruins win out.

He didn't mention them specifically, but ending a five-game losing streak against crosstown rival USC, a Pac-12 title and an appearance in the Rose Bowl are all still within UCLA's grasp as the Bruins come off their bye week and head into the final five games of the season.

Of course, most of that will quickly fall out of their grasp should the Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) lose at Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday in Tempe, Ariz., and that was reason enough for Mora to break one of the tenets of coachspeak and remind his players what is at stake.

"This is a big one for us and it's a big one for Arizona State," Mora said. "I think it has a lot of ramifications down the road and it's a game we've got to go win. ... These guys have taken advantage and put themselves in a position where they can do some good things if they finish strong and we can do some good things if we finish strong."

The Bruins are a game behind Arizona State and 1 1/2 games behind USC in the Pac-12 South Division race. They still have games against both teams remaining and would be Pac-12 South champs if they win out.

Mora broke out a quote from Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" in talking about how the stakes will continue to get bigger each week should the Bruins keep winning.

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized," Mora said.

Last year, the Bruins were in a similar situation after a victory over Arizona State. Then, they controlled their own destiny in the Pac-12 South but didn’t exactly seize the next opportunity when they fell flat in a 31-6 loss at Utah.

They got some help via quirky results late in the season and benefited from USC being ineligible for postseason play, going on to represent the South Division in the inaugural Pac-12 title game despite a 50-0 loss to USC the week before.

Many of the players who experienced last season, losing control and needing a lot of chips to fall the right way, say it was a learning experience they hope to put to use this year.

"I've seen what happens if you look too far ahead," receiver Shaquelle Evans said. "We still have a long way to go. I know we see the future of what we can do, but we have to just focus on one game at a time or that isn't going to happen."

Mora showed some faith in the maturity of his team to handle such big-picture talk about the season. He said he only briefly brought up the possibilities for the season to encourage and show the Bruins that their hard work was paying off to this point and to re-emphasize the importance of continuing on the same path.

"If you put yourself as a team in a position where you can do some things of significance then it's important to let them know," Mora said. "There are some exciting things out there for this team if they can just go capture the moment and that's what we're trying to encourage them to do."

He made it clear, however, that he quickly brought the focus back to this week and the game at Arizona State.

"It wasn't like we had a half-hour discussion on the future," Mora said. "I didn't sit there and orate about all these things. It was just a quick, hey this is what's out there for us. I want us to recognize it. Let's look at the big picture just for a minute and then let's come back and narrow the focus."

Defensive lineman Datone Jones indicated that the talk about the future never even fazed him. He said that during his five years at UCLA, he has been through enough to know that anything can happen and those things are usually bad when you start looking too far ahead.

"I'm not thinking about playing the Pac-12 championship or playing against SC or a BCS game," Jones said. "I'm not even thinking about Arizona the next week. All I'm thinking about is playing at Arizona State. That's pretty much all we can do. We're not getting caught up in the hype that we can still go to a BCS game. We're just ready to go play this game on Saturday."

Mora says he understands the risk of allowing the team to look ahead, even if for a brief moment. The team could lose focus on the immediate task ahead, but he also acknowledged that many coaches will bring up the future and ramifications of certain games to their teams even if they adhere to a doctrine of never talking about those things in public.

"It's not something I do a whole lot -- looking down the line," Mora said. "But at this point in the season, as it becomes more clear late in the year, it's important that we understood where we were."

And where they could be going.