It was Russell Westbrook’s 19th birthday yesterday and its my **th birthday today. Unlike the Doofus who only remembers the birthdays of pencil pushers at Morgan Center, Coach Howland and his Ben Ball warriors, gave me the best birthday present a UCLA alum/hoops fanatic can have with a ho hum, fairly dominating Ben Ball win.
It was an absolute treat to watch Kevin Love and rest of his team-mates. While taking it all in I scribbled down some quick notes, which I want to share with you all this am.
Let’s start with the obvious guy. Number 42. All game while watching him I tried really hard to think of whose game his play reminded me of. And honestly I couldn’t come up with any. Yes, I have heard the comparisons to Bill Walton’s outlet passes and the game of Kevin McHale. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to watch the Big Red, and I couldn’t see any resemblance to McHale’s game. This "kid" has his own game. I have never seen anyone like him. While he was going up there for every rebound, laying the hoops in his third effort, nailing threes, and playing his share of suffocating Ben Ball defense, he was just making it look all so freaking effortless. Oh and he just let the game comes to him.
And, it’s not hard to miss who is the early beneficiary of number 42’s presence. From Jill Painter:
Mata-Real and Love battle one another in practice every day, but they even played together in spurts against Youngstown State.
"We probably get all the rebounds," Mata-Real said.
Mata-Real reached a double-double at the free-throw line, where he struggled last year and shot 37 percent. Coach Ben Howland said Mata-Real is making free throws in practice, but that is not transferring to games. Mata-Real banked in a free throw in the first half and received hearty applause afterward. He also air-balled a free throw in the second half.
While KL and Mata-Real were killing the Penguins inside, AA2 was being AA2. He missed couple of easy shots (that he needs to make in the coming games). However, he threw his body around as usual, taking hard charges, making his presence felt in the scheme of Ben Ball defense. I can see why Coach Howland loves this kid.
Moving on from our three big monsters, let’s talk about our wings. Luc got to a slow, disconcerting start. But he made up for it in the second half. I saw some of the jumpers we were hearing about during pre season practices. But what I loved were couple of his passes. One that broke down Penguins’ zone defense, while another one came while he was attacking the rim only to pass it off (to Shipp IIRC) to a wide open man in the wing for an easy deuce. Just awesome. I do think Luc played much better in the second half because he relaxed a little and went by that old adage of letting the game come to him (See Love).
While Luc showed us what we might get from this season during the second half, I was particularly encouraged by the play of Nikola Dragovic. I saw what Wong saw (in BBR):
In terms of our back court, I will start with Shipp. Shipp scored 11 points. But what I really liked about his game last night was that unlike he was doing last season (through the early part) he was not forcing the action. His game reminded me lot of the Shipp from freshman season we all fell in love with. Pucin flagged Shipp for his defensive effort last night:
"Held another team under 40%," Howland said.
My main concern from yesterday’s game was our sluggish start. I thought Westbrook looked pretty unsure of himself in the first half. Few times he seemed to be just charging down the middle without a set plan. Our offense was sputtering a little and it was basically Love and Lo cleaning up around the rim. But then again he settled down after the half time, and played much better in the second half. Geez, a coach making half time adjustments. It’s a concept we will have to get used to after the dreadful Saturdays this Fall.
Lastly, the students in the Den ought to be embarrassed of themselves. They looked like total morons in those Lavin masks showing the imbecile attention and affection he doesn’t deserve. I like the Den a lot. Obviously they are my favorite student section. But last night, the idiots who put on those Lavin masks, embarrassed all of us. They looked like bunch of tools who have no idea about the recent history of UCLA basketball. From my perspective the only black mark from a great night at Pauley.
Anyway, Coach Howland and his warriors will not get any time to rest though. They are taking on Cal State San Bernardino tonight. Painter has this from Coach Howland on what he expects tonight (from Painter again):
"We'll play a lot of games this year," Howland said. "This will be actually good for us, because this is a team that presses. They really play different, and you've got to be able to react to everything. This will be a good experience."
Cal State San Bernardino is a strong Division II program and made it to the NCAA Division II semifinals last year.
"It's going to be great exposure for our institution and our program," San Bernardino coach Jerry Oliver said. "It's something we've never had before, a game on ESPN."
The winner of tonight's game will advance to the tournament semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., next week.
With this team it feels like a birthday every time they take the court.