Ben Ball Gameday Roundup: Can Bruins Make Things "Interesting" Against Kansas?

Well thanks again to Wisconsin Badgers for taking care of business late last night. The Badgers crushed Hawaii Warriors by a score 51-10 ending Hawaii's hopes of making a bowl game with a record 6-7 and essentially ensuring a bowl bid for UCLA during this post-season. I am assuming we will have to wait till the outcome of Army-Navy game to find out which bowl the Bruins will end up in (Humanitarian or GMAC). It sounds like we might have some disagreement here on which bowl game is preferable for the Bruins. As far as I am concerned, even though I prefer a post New Year's day bowl game in Alabama (over a December game in Idaho), at the end of the day, I really care about those extra two weeks of practices and ending the year on a great note. So, I will take either.

Moving on to basketball we are all bracing for number 1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks arrival in Pauley this afternoon. The Jayhawks are excited about their first road "test." I am not sure whether they can consider a matchup against a team featuring blowout losses against Fullerton, Long Beach State, and a humiliating blowout against Portland a true "test." But they are taking their cues from their classy head coach and being gracious. You have to respect that. Our friends over at Rock Chalk Talk are excited about the game. Denverjhawk has written up a preview of the game which offers up the following notes about Kansas:

Kansas extended the nation's longest home court winning streak to 46 games with its 98-31 win against Alcorn State on Dec. 2. The win was KU's fifth margin of victory of 30 points or more in six games this season. Included in the victory was a 36-point run that was one point shy of the NCAA record of 37 set by Utah State in 2006. The top-ranked Jayhawks average 91.8 points per game and are giving up 54.8 points for a +37 scoring margin. KU is shooting 52.2 percent from the field, while its opponents are shooting 32.6 percent.

Freshman guard Xavier Henry leads the team with a 17 point scoring average. He is making 48.4 percent of his shots from three-point range. Senior guard Sherron Collins is at 14.3 points per game and he leads the team with 17 three pointers, two ahead of Xavier Henry. Collins and sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor (7.0 ppg) are tied for the team high with 22 assists. Collins and Taylor are second on the team with 11 steals, one behind Xavier Henry.

Sophomore forward Marcus Morris is a starter who is scoring 11 points and pulling down five rebounds per game. Junior center Cole Aldrich averages team bests in rebounds at 9.8 rpg and blocked shots with 3.7 per outing. He is scoring 11.2 points per game and has double-doubles in each of his last two games.

Sophomore forward Markieff Morris is shooting 72.7 percent from the field through six games and had a string of 15-straight made baskets. He is scoring 7.5 points per game and is third on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game.

You can also read up the game preview from Sports Network on SBN over here (Sportsline.com also has a generic preview here).

As I wrote yesterday, I think doing a matchup analysis position by position is kind of pointless for this game. Kansas has overwhelming advantages with explosive and proven talent on both ends of the court. If we want to look for a sliver of hope, I guess we can take some comfort in the fact that Kansas hasn't played a true road game this season. They took on Memphis in a neutral court appearance in St. Louis, which they won by 2 points. If the Bruins can slow down the game today, and can mix in an effective dose of zone into their usual man to man defense, perhaps we might have a prayer. Yet, I doubt how effective we are going to be if we haven't really tried it out during Howland 6+ year stint at UCLA. Hey, but we never know I guess. More after the jump.

Guess the more interesting aspect of today's game is going to be how RN is going to respond to his new role, which fits in with the larger curiosity of how the entire team will respond to the drama of last few days. We might also get a chance to see TH in his first regular season action. From what we have read this week TH has been practicing with the team and might be ready for some mins this afternoon. That is something to look forward to this afternoon.

More from the LA Times on what we might expect this afternoon:

At UCLA, a shift in defensive philosophy might lead to personnel changes, with more opportunity for youngsters such as Mike Moser and Tyler Honeycutt.

"One thing we can do at times is have length and size in there," Howland said.

The Bruins planned to spend this week practicing their new ploy, the coach intent on delivering a warning to his players: "Sometimes when people get in the zone, kids feel like it's time to relax."

Howland wants to see the same kind of effort that has marked UCLA's man defense in past seasons: pressuring the ballhandler, disrupting the opponent's offense.

"You have to understand that you have to work really hard," he said. "You've got to be on your toes the whole time."

Well, effort is going to be key. I have seen only two games this season (Cal State Bakersfield and Pepperdine). Against Bakersfield the first half was troubling because from what I saw, I didn't seen a lot of effort on the defensive side in the first half. Then something clicked within the team and the defense tighetened up, which translated into success in second half, and carried over into Pepperdine game. Lot of that had to do with the team putting on more effective on ball pressure, rebounding more effectively, and working on developing an identity by pounding it inside on the offensive end.

However, since then everything seems to have fallen apart and lack of intensity on defense sounds like a huge reason behind it. I hope JA and ML can come out  with a little fire and urgency in their minds this afternoon. FWIW JA at least in the press this week has been sounding off with a positive mindset:

On the idea of "abandoning a sinking ship":
"I can't speak for anybody but myself, but I know it's not entering into my mind. The only thing I'm worried about is getting things together where we're at."

On finding chemistry
"We're a close-knit team, we just really have to find our chemistry on the floor. Definitely we're a little down coming off the tournament, but our focus right now is to work hard and get better."

JA also sounded excited about RN starting this afternoon (emphasis added):

"I've played with reeves for a long time, and he plays with a lot of heart. He's going to play hard. That's one thing we really need on this team, guys who are going to go out and play hard. He'll step up. People have. Once you have more opportunities, you step up."

There will be no shortage of drama this afternoon I think. Even though the outlook of this afternoon's game from the perspective of a reality based fandom is utterly hopeless, I think the first few mins is going to be extremely interesting. If the Bruins come out breathing fire on the defensive end with classic Ben Ball inside the jersey tenacity, show all out effort around the boards, and then can show some maturity with a patient offense, they could get the crowd in Pauley excited. If they can find reasons to believe in themselves early,  the game just might get interesting early.

That's pretty much the most encouraging scenario I can muster up today. The game thread will go up about an hour before the tip-off (2:30 pm PST). See you then.

GO BRUINS.

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