Leadership

So after a couple of days I was finally able to stomach reading the game reports from last Saturday. There were few comments that particularly stood out to me and they go back to what we had been discussing following Thursday's heartbreaking loss: mental toughness. Here is DC's quotes in the Daily News following the Arizona debacle:

"It's really mental. It's not so much physical," Bruins point guard Darren Collison said. "It's real hard to bounce back from a tough loss. That can have some truth to it. The bottom line is if we lose one game, we have to bounce back and win the next one."

More from the LAT:

Veterans Darren Collison and Josh Shipp had no real answer for what happened.

"We didn't handle their pressure," Collison said. "It was just one of those games when everybody was misreading everybody."

The Bruins also reverted to old ways, taking 14 of their 26 shots in the first half from three-point range. With little penetration to speak of, they did not manage a single foul shot in those first 20 minutes.

That goes a long way toward explaining why Arizona had a 49-31 lead at halftime.

"It's hard to dig that kind of hole and come back," Howland said.

And I will end with the following from DG, who in some ways is turning out to be the most prescient observer (and perhaps unquestionable future leader) of this team:

"It's weird, it comes and goes, our confidence," Bruins freshman center Drew Gordon said. "The confidence is high one game, low another game. We have to go at a constant pace. We can't go fast (one game). We can't go slow one game. We have to get to one certain level and stay there, and we have to find out what that level is.

"Hopefully, this will knock some sense into us and remind us we can't let our heads get too high."

Sounds like someone who understands the steady, even keeled approach for the entire season.

Going back to this past weekend I have to say I am not shocked by the fact that we lost both of those games. Remember even John Gasaway from Basketball Prospectus, who gave us a lot of (much deserved) props during the previous four game winning streak opined that it wouldn't be "inconceivable" of the Bruins had gone 0-2 during the Arizona road trip. So the Bruins did end up going 0-2. However, I think what has jarred many of us is the way we lost on Saturday afternoon.

Despite the heart break, I was fine with Thursday's loss. Tough losses like that happen. But I have been having a hard time wiping off the memories of what took place in Tuscon during the first half and first part of second half against Arizona. I think it really all goes back to leadership.

I want to zero in on our three seniors. Let me start with DC. He finished the afternoon with 26 points thanks to a nice spurt towards the end of the game. Still I think what we are missing from our current group of seniors is vocal leader. Earlier this year I wrote how we might be in position to have the most special senior day in Pauley since we said goodbye to the trio of O'Bannon, Edney and Zidek.

Let's think back to Ed'O. What made Ed'O so special was not just his clutch play but his vocal leadership. Think what Ed'O (or JF or AA) would have done during his senior season if his team was in the middle of a meltdown like we were experience against Zona? Would he have just stand pat if his team-mates were turning the ball over while in bounding the ball, coughing up the rock with lazy dribbling, and just dribbling around without a purpose on offense looking hesitant and lost? No, he would have torn into them and demanded more focus. We got the same leadership from both JF and AA by their second year at UCLA.

I am not sure we will get that kind of vocal leadership from DC. Don't get me wrong. He will leave UCLA as a great Bruin. However, he is a player who tries to lead by example. I am not sure if that is enough for this team though which is still working to develop it's identity.

As for JS, he is a great kid who has done everything Coach Howland has asked him to over his career. He runs the floor as well as anyone. He is fearless and doesn't hesitate from taking tough shots. Yet, I think he also sometimes operate from that gray area when it becomes tough to judge whether he is forcing it too much or just doing enough to fire up his team-mates.

Lastly, we have talked about PAA. He is a special Bruin who have given us everything possible, allowing Howland to get the best out of his athletic potential.

All of these seniors had a chat with Howland following the loss against Washington which resulted in the recent four game winning stream and inspired effort from the entire team. I have no idea what will take place (or has already taken place) following the tough weekend against Arizona. I think it has to start with the mental aspect of the game. We have all talked endlessly about the keys for this team's success: defend like we have seen a Howland coach defend in previous years, give it all when it comes to grabbing rebounds, and attack the basket (without settling for pretty jumpshots). I am sure they all get that. The question for me is whether these seniors can lead vocally and by example prodding rest of their team-mates to do the same.

No doubt Thursday night will be a gut-check game. I think it will start with the seniors who will not only have to demand more focus and inspired effort out of themselves but also from rest of their team-mates. Next few days will be all about leadership from our three seniors. Hopefully they will rise to occasion and make us proud on Thursday.

GO BRUINS.

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