Ben Ball Gameday Roundup: Playing Our Game

The negativity from the outside world has pretty much reached a crescendo in last 48 hrs. And it sounds like the reporters and writers from Southern California are just chomping at the opportunity to pounce on the UCLA basketball program in Philadelphia. Coaches and our players can sense it:

Coach Ben Howland has been keeping tabs of everybody's negative opinions about his team. It began when CBS' Seth Davis predicted the upset within seconds of the East Region bracket coming out. Several TV commentators followed suit, but it accelerated when Obama weighed in.

"We kind of have an us-against-the-world feeling going into this," forward James Keefe said. "We're on the East Coast. We're probably not going to have a lot of Bruins fans in this building. That's the exciting part of going into a building where it's you against the world and coming out on top.

"He talks about how this is our family and we're the only ones who expect us to win."

And from the LA Times:

Forgive the UCLA players if they suspect everyone is rooting against them tonight.

No sooner was their first-round game in the NCAA tournament announced than a well-known television analyst picked them to be upset by Virginia Commonwealth.

Then, President Obama penciled them in as losers on his March Madness bracket.

"I mean, we've got the United States against us," forward Drew Gordon said.

Well JK and DG should know their coaches and team-mates are not the "only ones." They will have hundreds of thousands of UCLA fans backing them up from all around the nation.

As for the game probably the most important note heading into tonight's tipoff is the health situation of DC and DG. Here is an update from the OC Register:

Collison said an injury to his tailbone has made playing defense a painful endeavor at times. That could be a problem since Collison will be charged with slowing down VCU's best player, Maynor, in transition.

On the other hand, Collison said treatment and rest have made his lower back feel a lot better. UCLA chartered a flight, so Collison got a row to himself to stretch out.

"I think I did a good job with it the last few days of practice," Collison said. "It's been getting better every day, so I should be fine."

Freshman center Drew Gordon said his bruised left knee stiffened up on the long flight, but he looked pretty nimble dunking and running around during UCLA's afternoon shootaround.

"It's a little sore. Nothing serious," Gordon said. "I should be good to go."

Sure hope so. We will need DG's energy and athleticism to handle Larry Sanders. As for DC it will be interesting to see if Howland decides to use DC to guard Eric Maynor. Per Dohn's report it seems like DC is going to be guarding Maynor:

Collison built his defensive reputation the last few years with his ability to stop dribble penetration. Maynor, the two-time defending Colonial Athletic Association player of the year, is averaging 22.4 points and 6.2 assists per game and is a projected first-round NBA draft pick.

"I think he's patient, he sees the floor well," Collison said. "He knows how to be a point guard for his team. We'll just try to contain him. He's the head of the horse, so if we can get the head of the horse, everything should be cool."

However, Bruins coach Ben Howland said Maynor runs off so many screens, it will take a team effort to limit him.

"He has a great feel for the game, a great change of pace, a great ability to go from stopping to starting quickly," Howland said. "Really good feel for the game. He's an outstanding passer."

I still think we will be better off if we give JH the defensive assignment to shut down the Maynor and then bring in ML right away if JH is not up to task. I just don't want to experience the Memphis and Washington games all over again when DC was blitzed by more physical and athletic guards. I think it would make sense to exert ball pressure on Maynor with the more athletes we have in our backcourt in JH and ML. Guess we will find out how that matchup goes.

Meanwhile, on the other end VCU's Larry Sanders is looking to "impose" their "will" on UCLA:

[T]he real story of this game could be defense in a matchup of teams that emphasize shutting down opponents. While UCLA sticks with man-to-man, VCU has mixed in a few zones and extended pressure past half court, limiting the other team to less than 40% shooting.

"Doing what we do," forward Larry Sanders called it. "Trying to impose our will on the defensive end."

Sheesh. Reading these quotes and all the reports it is getting hard to keep track of which team is actually coming off three straight Final-4s and conference championships.

I know that we all have had our share of disappointments at various flash points of this season. The losses against Michigan, WSU, ASU and Southern Cal stung pretty bad. Yet that doesn't take away anything from the solid season our guys put together despite having to deal with early departures of three NBA first round picks.

I think it's pretty funny the amount of hating that is going on against our Ben Ball warriors. We have recent championship and final-4 caliber teams such as Florida and Georgetown completely missing the tournament, and here we are people from all around the country pouring it on UCLA. From ND:

"We have no pressure," Dragovic said. "Nobody expects us to do anything."

I think that helps. I hope our guys are just focused, fired up and ready to pounce from the get go. I know emotion matters and I think it will give us an edge (or at least I hope). But after the initial rush of adrenaline has subsided we will have to play our game which we have shown that we are capable of during certain stretches this season. We just have to play defense the way Coach Howland teaches it every day, rebound our heart out, and be patient and disciplined on offense.

I just want us to play our game - Ben Ball - the way we have done it in last three years. When we play our game with fire, intensity and passion, I like our chances against any other team in the United States.

We will have pre-game tourney threads going up hopefully around lunch time in the East Coast and leading to our game thread about half an hour before tipoff.

GO BRUINS.

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