Ben Ball Gameday Roundup: Closing Time

Bruins are taking on Oregon Ducks today in the last home game of the season. The game itself is crucial for the purposes of momentum, seeding, and to keep hope alives for another Pac-10 championship. Yet to be honest I am having a hard time thinking about the Ducks today (and I don't mean any disrespect to them even though they are having a rough season). I am just thinking of the emotions we are all going to experience when we see the three seniors walk on John & Nell Wooden court for the first time and then say goodbye leaving it for the last time in their careers.

I will get to notes and comments re. the dominant storyline of the day below but we have to start with the Ducks. Here is a quick refresher on their nightmarish season courtesy of Sportsline.com:

Oregon is 2-15 entering Saturday's game. The worst previous record for the Ducks since the league expanded to 10 teams and an 18-game schedule was 2-16 in the 1991-92 season. The problem is that UCLA still has incentive -- a victory could give the Bruins a Pac-10 co-championship.

It's not a good matchup for the Ducks. They're the worst team in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage defense, and they're up against the Bruins, who began the week leading the nation in shooting percentage. Past Oregon teams might have hoped to outscore the Bruins, but this Oregon team is the worst shooting team of Ernie Kent's 12 seasons and can't keep up offensively.

Oregon's 21 overall losses are tied for second in school history with coach Don Monson's teams in 1988-89 (8-21) and '91-92 (6-21) and Steve Belko's first season, 1956-57 (4-21). The school record for defeats was set in the 7-24 season of 1921-22.

They are coming off a 14 point loss in the hands Tim Floyd's NIT program even though they stayed closed right up to half time.

So they are not in very good shape but I am sure Howland will remind his players - particularly his guards - the difficult time they have had in keeping a speedy guard like Tajuan Porter out infront of them. Porter is averaging 15 points per game but he can be incredibliy inconsistent. He did go off for 24 points v. Bruins in Eugene. He is coming into this game after a good night against the Trojans during which he led the Ducks with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. Bruins have also had a tough time staying with PF Joevan Catron who could present a matchup advantage for the Ducks in terms of size v. ND.  More notes on the Ducks personnel via Sportsline.com:

--F Josh Crittle seems to thrive when fellow UO post player Michael Dunigan struggles. Up against a USC veteran Taj Gipson, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots, Dunigan struggled. Enter Crittle, who doesn't mind a physical game and showed it with 10 points and eight rebounds. He even hit 6 of 9 free throws as that part of his game continued to improve. He's a more physical player than Dunigan, and it shows against an opponent who plays that way.

--G Matt Humphrey, after two big games against Stanford and Oregon State, thudded back to reality against USC, hitting only 1-of-5 shots from the field and missing his three 3-point attempts. USC saw that Humphrey had made a difference in Oregon winning two games and put more defensive emphasis on the UO freshman. When that happens, Humphrey needs to learn to find other ways to help offensively, whether it's driving to the basket or setting up other teammates.

Besides Humphrey, per Howland another freshman to keep an eye on is forward Drew Wiley:

Coach Ben Howland warned that despite a losing record, the Ducks have won two of their last three games and have improved with the emergence of freshmen Matthew Humphrey and Drew Wiley, who did not play much against UCLA when the teams met in early January.

"They've always been a team that causes problems from a standpoint of how they can get hot," Howland said.

So it will be our guys to come out and jump on this team taking advantage of the overwhelming emotion they are going to experience right before the tip off at Pauley. About that emotion I think the lead grafs in the OC Register's game day report kind of captures what we are going to feel:

The sentiment has been building up for weeks, enough to create a volcanic outpouring of emotions this afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.

It might be during the pregame ceremony. It might be in the midst of the final home game against Oregon. It might not come until the horn sounds, or even after all the fans have left the building.

But Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya don't figure to escape it forever.

"Finally, it will all set in," Shipp said.

It's not often UCLA fans get to commemorate a senior class like this one. It's not often – try never – that Coach Ben Howland has ushered out a group like this.

"I'm going to miss these guys," Howland said. "This is it."

Yep. I'd say "volcanic" is a good way to put it. Dohn has a great piece today filled with quotes about and from these three special Ben Ball warriors. Here is Coach Howland on JS:

"What he's accomplished during his tenure has been truly special, especially what he's had to endure and go through and come back from," Howland said. "If there's ever a person who had to deal with multiple adversities, and yet always has a great attitude and is positive, it's Josh."

on DC:

"I thought, going into last year's season, we would probably lose him and Kevin (Love)," Howland said. "He really prayed on it. A lot of people don't know this kid that well. He's really a good person. He's religious. He doesn't have any interests outside of basketball, video games and his teammates."

And of course on PAA who he talks about as if he were his own son:

"I would think all our freshmen truly appreciate Alfred because of his work ethic and his being a team person. It's all about the team," Howland said. "He's always been that way. No one works harder than he does, every day. We're truly, truly going to miss him and how he leads by example on a daily basis."

Howland described Aboya as a "self-made" player. Aboya's parents had never seen him play in person and had never been on an airplane before they traveled from their native Cameroon to Los Angeles this week.

While here is JS on what he is going to miss:

"The main thing for me is the memories on campus," Shipp said. "It's not so much about the games. They come and go, but it's the people you're around, your teammates, the friends you made. That's what you really remember."

and PAA on how none of us are really prepared for what we are going to experience:

To put a wonderful bow on the Senior Day pregame ceremonies, Aboya will be accompanied to center court by his parents.

"I don't want to think about it, because it's something that you can't prepare for," Aboya said. "I'm looking forward to it.

"I've had a great run, a great career. It has to stop somewhere."

The closing time tips off at 12:30 pm PST. The ceremonies I believe start around 12:00 PST. The game is on ABC regional so lot of us are going to be depending on commentaries from those lucky enough to watch it. Safe to say I don't think there will be any dry eyes today at Pauley or all around the Bruin Nation taking in this game and those special moments.

GO BRUINS.

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