It's a pretty big football Saturday around the country as number of conference championship games are taking place around the country. For us the relevant game will come on later tonight when Wisconsin takes on Hawaii on ESPN2 around 8:30 PST. I think for the first time ever many of us will be rooting for the Badgers (trying to set aside bad memories from 94 and 98). Hey, at least Wisconsin has some really great fans (had great experience tailgating with them out at the Rose Bowl). So, at least for me it will not be that difficult to root for Bucky.
Now this morning my mind is on hoops. We have a game tomorrow which comes after probably the most turbulent week in recent history of UCLA basketball. I am not going to hash over all the passionate discussion that has taken place on BN last few days spanning hundreds of comments. I am also not going to be delusional about our chances tomorrow afternoon against Kansas Jayhawks, who are going to come in with their number 1 ranking and 6-0 record. However, I have to admit there is a sense of drama right now around our program, that is going to make tomorrow's game lot more compelling than I thought it would have been even after that mind boggling loss against Long Beach State.
Kansas fans are licking their chops (and you can't really fault them for having that mindset). Those who are not associated with UCLA and Kansas, will peer in solely for the purpose of rubbernecking at our Bruins. As for us, we have no idea how our guys are going to respond. I'd like to think our guys will come out and play classic Ben Ball. Yet just when I start thinking that I keep thinking of the scores against Concordia, Fullerton, Portland and Long Beach State. No, the Butler score doesn't make me feel all that better considering what followed afterwards. So, I am not sure we can realistically hope for any kind of immediate relief from the agony we have experienced for more than a week after tomorrow afternoon. Yet, for some reason I still can't wait to watch the game tomorrow afternoon.
I think if anything else with the Gordon story tomorrow afternoon could present an opportunity for collective catharsis for UCLA basketball. Tomorrow not only we will need our players to show their pride and passion for the four letters, we are going to need that from the entire crowd in the House that Coach Wooden built. I sure hope the entire student section is filled up and ready to go crazy for every defensive stand, every rebound, and every dive for the loose ball on the court.
Going back to Kansas, here are the capsule notes from Sportsline.com:
WHAT WE LEARNED IN NOVEMBER
No surprise, the Jayhawks look even more talented than last year, when they captured a fifth straight Big 12 title and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The return of C Cole Aldrich and G Sherron Collins, coupled with the emergence of G Xavier Henry, a freshman who can be deadly on the wing, makes this a complete, and deep, squad. Two other freshmen, F Thomas Robinson and G Elijah Johnson, have earned minutes.
DECEMBER AT A GLANCE
With UCLA struggling, the Dec. 6 trip to Los Angeles doesn't look risky for the Jayhawks, who play two other majors, Michigan and California, at home later in the month. Visits in early January to Temple and Tennessee provide additional character tests for Kansas, though veterans like Aldrich and Collins figure to be ready to step up. By the end of December, KU coach Bill Self should finalize a rotation he hopes to whittle to no more than nine players.
Usual Starters - F Marcus Morris, C Cole Aldrich, G Xavier Henry, G Sherron Collins, G Tyshawn Taylor. Key Subs - F Markieff Morris, F Thomas Robinson, G Elijah Johnson, G Tyrel Reed.
While their fans are giddy about pounding UCLA, their coach - Bill Self - is being gracious in public:
"I think it’s a big-time test," Self said. "The Memphis game was a good test for us. I think this will be a much more difficult game for us, going on the road."
Self can imagine what Howland and the Bruins must be going through.
"If you’re UCLA or if you’re Kansas, Carolina or Duke, and you lose a couple of games in a row, you’re gonna come out fighting," Self said. "We’ll get a great effort from them."
Self seems like a good guy in general. He has always come across as a gracious person in general more in the mold of Tom Izzo rather than ESPN created personas like Roy Williams, K, and Calipari. So, I think the respect he is showing our team in public is genuine.
Self noted how KU faced a stiff challenge from Memphis this season. That was a neutral court game in St. Louis (although I am sure they had a heavy KU contingent in Missouri). Tomorrow afternoon is going to be the first true road game for Kansas this season:
"I’m anxious," KU senior Sherron Collins said. "I think they’ll handle it well. They’re freshmen. The butterflies will come, but once the ball gets in the air, it’ll be all right."
The Jayhawks are coming off a 98-31 bashing of Alcorn State on Wednesday night that was hard on the eyes. Playing the Bruins will offer KU a chance to measure its improvement since squeaking out a 57-55 win over Memphis on Nov. 17.
"We’re going to find out more about who we are as a team," KU freshman Thomas Robinson said. "The season starts now. We’re about to get into some big games these next couple weeks."
Well either way KU is going to have matchup advantages virtually all over the court. They are perhaps even deeper and more talented from previous season. I think for us to have a shot tomorrow afternoon we are going to have it slow it down, and mix it up on the defensive front by playing some zone using our height down low. If we stay man-to-man the whole time tomorrow we might set a new record in terms of blowout losses tomorrow. I imagine Howland and his coaches know this.
It is going to be very interesting to see how our guys come out tomorrow. Last few days undoubtedly have been probably the most challenging period Howland has ever experienced as a basketball coach. I am anxious to see how our guys come out and respond tomorrow afternoon. I am not expecting anything tomorrow in terms of the scoreboard at this point. However, I think the way our guys come out and play tomorrow could present an opportunity for catharsis Bruin basketball and the UCLA basketball needs desperately after a very long week. Not sure, we are going to get it tomorrow, but if our guys come out and fight and get all out support from the crowd at Pauley it could be a start of something positive.