One of the things I remember most about the HBO special "The UCLA Dynasty" was one fan saying that it was like "losing a family member" for all of LA when the Bruins dropped a game. Then there's the email I got last night from a buddy after the game. "Sorry about UCLA bro. I talked to your brother--he sounded like you guys had lost a family member."
And while I like that fact that we EXPECT victory, it does create for even more painful losses (example: what were you more upset about, the SC loss on Sat. or the UT loss yesterday?). The point is, we are INCRDEDIBLY lucky to even be at a point where losing by two to the #8 team in the land is this disappointing. And it is disappointing. Extremely so.
There are plenty of things I could sit and complain about. Our zone attack (non existent for much of the game), Josh and Luc's outside shooting, Darren's rust, Love's D/lack of incorporation on O, etc. However, there's a guy named Ben Howland who's already on it. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll have seen this game at least a couple more times by nightfall. We are going to keep introducing more sets into our offense as the season continues and our offense evolves. We are going to keep getting healthier, which means Darren will play more like the All-American that he is. Mike Roll will be in significantly better game shape and will be feeding Love more as our best interior passer. And Love will mature and improve on defense (and hopefully get in a little better shape-- is that too much to ask?)
It's hard to beat any team when you play 9 minutes of the worst basketball you've played all season. And we almost did it. In fact (and this is what stings the most), we should have won it. Four point lead, under two to go, AT PAULEY. This one was ours and we let it slip away from us. Hats off to Texas, they would not miss there down the stretch.
But if you want an inspiring loss this was it. We came back from a sixteen point deficit in the first half (yet ANOTHER tribute to Howland's ability to adjust and motivate at halftime) and very nearly won it against a talented and well-coached team that was shooting extremely well.
Some people seem to be worried about our general approach to zones under Howland. Granted, we looked awful and stagnant against the zone in the first half but we made some adjustments at halftime and really improved in the second half. I'm going to wait for Darren to recover a little bit and Mike to get fully reincorporated before I seriously start to worry about every zone we see. Plus our offense always seems to improve over the course of the year.
Honestly, if there's one thing I'm worried about it's Love's defense. His lack of speed is proving to be costlier than I might have initially anticipated. He doesn't hedge nearly as well as LoMaRe or Alfred. He's occasionally a little late rotating. And he got burned by not getting back fast enough a few times last night. I need to remind myself that it took Afflalo, Farmar, Bozeman et al almost two years before they really bought into AND executed the Ben Howland balls-to-the-wall-for-40-minutes defensive approach. We can't expect him to be quite as effective on defense as Luc, Alfred, or LoMaRe quite yet. The good thing is he's not afraid to bang out there-- so that's step one. Now he just needs more experience so that he can play with the same defensive intensity and effectiveness that has gotten us through the toughest games of the Howland era (the Memphis rematch, the KU game, the MSU game, etc.)
So for those of you out there that think that Josh hates Kevin, the team has chemistry issues, and Howland can't teach scoring-- calm down. It's just a loss.
I am grateful for this great team. I am grateful for our amazing coach. And I am really grateful that I don't have to be at practice today. Can't imagine that'll be much fun.
"In life you will be dealt crushing blows of humility. Take them in stride, and getcha swagger back, son."
-- John R. Wooden