Ben Howland and his basketball team (I think we can stop calling these guys "Ben Ball warriors") take on New Mexico State Aggies today to follow up on the debacle against Mississippi State. Honestly, I don't feel the normal excitement and sense of anticipation around UCLA basketball I have felt in recent years. I don't feel it because once again heading into the game I am left with the same questions we all have been asking in pretty much every game: 1) will Howland hold his staters accountable for not playing defense, 2) will we get better at FT line, 3) will we should better effort on the defensive front with better double teams, on ball pressure from our guards, and 4) will we play with any kind of passion and intensity.
It will be increasingly hard to get excited about these games if Ben Howland continues to waste huge chunks of mins on Nikola Dragovic and Jerime Anderson, dispirting the Bruin faithful, and probably discouraging the freshme who can see their coach not holding players accountable who don't live up to the standards of defense and sound fundamental basketball on both ends of the court. Howland for his part didn't indicate of any dramatic changes in the near future:
"He (Dragovic) really knows he played an all-around poor game," said Howland, whose Bruins face New Mexico State tonight at Pauley Pavilion.
"His defense, his rebounding against Mississippi State were definitely sub-par. If he continues to play at this pace, obviously he's going to play less minutes."
We will see Howland actually decreases Dragovic's mins if he continues to play like ... well how he has played his entire career at UCLA (except for a brief spurt in couple of Pac-10 games last season). It is mindboggling how Howland continues to play this guy just for his cheap 3 pointers, while he has consistently hurt the team with his mental lapses on both end of the court. Laugably though, per Jon Gold in the Daily News, Dragovic thinks that his only problem is with his shooting technique:
At issue for Howland is not Dragovic's form or his follow-through or his shot selection, but his eyes. Dragovic was in the gym an hour before his teammates working on his shot, trying to focus on the target - that metal circle with the net - rather than the ball.
Howland has tried to get Dragovic to address the issue for four years, though his fantastic shooting late last season curbed the talk.
"I'm having shooting problems, but I'm doing everything I can," Dragovic said. "I feel more comfortable. I talked to coach and he wants me to keep my eyes on the rim as I'm shooting, and I'm thinking it will work out."
Uh, yeah ok. It's just that he is having "shooting" problems. Our frustration has nothing to do with his inability to defend or just looking clueless on both ends of the court. It has nothing to do with playing without any heart and playing with an unreal sense of entitlement and no sense of accountability. Whatever. If Howland continues to waste away his mins on this guy, he will not only lose his team (which he did against Mississippi State), but he will also lose the base of support he has built at UCLA in last few years - quickly. More of "more of the same" from Howland after the jump.It also looks like Anderson will get the start again. The LAT's printed the "point of view" of Howland's "point"guard:
From where point guard Jerime Anderson stands, the Bruins' offensive production is suffering for a couple of reasons.
First, it seems, the shots that fall in practice keep bouncing away when game time comes around.
"People are a little bit more comfortable in practice and have more of a feel for what's going on," he said.
Also, Anderson wants to do more to create opportunities, which means penetrating to break down defenses, then either scoring or feeding teammates.
"I need to try to get to the hole a little more," he said, "and be a little more aggressive."
I wonder if the 50 percent FT shooter is also more "comfortable" at the FT line during practices. I was hoping Howland would use tonight's game against New Mexico State to start Malcolm Lee getting him ready for the regular season at pg, but looks like it is not happening as the stubborn head coach will continue to stay on the path which has led to one disaster after another early this season.
OH BTW we are playing New Mexico State tonight. Here are Howland's thoughts on the Aggies:
Watching film of tonight's opponent, New Mexico State, Howland came away impressed by the backcourt of Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson.
"Those two guys are very dangerous," he said. "They can really score."
The Aggies also have center Hamidu Rahman, who is averaging 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Howland expects them to play a 2-3 zone for much of the game, switching to man-to-man occasionally.
Again, I don't feel the motivation to look up the information on these guys. Why should I when it looks like I will be staying up to watch Anderson running the "point" and Chokola Dragovic chucking up more ill advised shots.
Still after all that we will have a game thread up around 7:00 pm PST. We will be around either getting excited for a new beginning or just going through the motions. Honestly I am not optimistic about the the former. Hard to get motivated to watch ugly basketball tarnishing the legacy of actual Ben Ball warriors in Westwood.