The exhibitions are over. Before we anoint Reeves Nelson as a new James Worthy or Brendan Lane as the next Don Maclean based on their very good exhibition game performances, let's keep in mind those were exhibition games. UCLA took care of business but that was what they were supposed to do; which is good news compared to last year.
So what can we take from the two exhibition games? Two words: "Push It!" CBH yelled push it every single time we had the ball it seemed. He yelled push it when Blake Arnet and the walks on were on. He yelled push it when Westmont and CSLA where shooting Free Throws and we got the rebound.
The stated reason:
A faster tempo, Howland reasons, will capitalize on the strengths of his returning nucleus - the speed of guard Malcolm Lee and forward Tyler Honeycutt as well as the improved conditioning of forward Reeves Nelson.
I think it is important to note that CBH is doing this because it fits THIS TEAM. While I for one am very happy with new recruit Norman Powell, a debate began yesterday whether CBH may be going (or pretend to be going) faster to help recruit new players. CBH denied that:
Howland insisted there was no recruiting element to his new offense, saying the top priority of the high school players he targets is preparing for the NBA. . . .
As mentioned yesterday, CBH has been very been good at that since UCLA has the most pro players. So if it is true UCLA is running more, as it appears, it is to fit this team, not to recruit players. More on this team after the jump.
There is another factor that cannot be overlooked regarding this year's team compared to last year's team.
But a lack of depth - UCLA has only 10 scholarship players available this year - means that newcomers will also play a significant role. True freshman Joshua Smith will start at center and junior college transfer Lazeric Jones is the starting point guard. Shooting guard Tyler Lamb is expected to get significant minutes off the bench.
And with that short bench, the Bruins can ill-afford any major injuries, but still, Howland said his team is in a much better place than it was at this time last year.
"Better chemistry," Howland said. "Much better team chemistry. That's the main thing that separates it."
As Tydides has noted bad chemistry can kill a team and may have last year. Good chemistry can't win games but it is better than the alternative.
As far as the Bench. We should have at least 9 scholarship players available but even Jones is a little dinged up:
Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson (strained right hip flexor) completed a full practice on Nov. 11 and will play in the season-opener against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 12. Freshman center Joshua Smith (sprained right thumb) started in the last exhibition game against Cal State Los Angeles (Nov. 9) and will play against the Matadors. Freshman guard Matt Carlino (concussion) was limited in practice on Nov. 11 and will be a gametime decision. Junior guard Lazeric Jones received two stitches in the mouth after he was inadvertently struck in the face at the Nov. 11 practice. He returned to practice and will be good to go against Cal State Northridge.
If we truly do run more this season, the bench will be important as will conditioning. On the latter, UCLA worked hard on:
Intense off-season conditioning has gotten the players in better shape and as a result, made them better athletes. As a result, the Bruins plan to push the tempo in transition this season — a style that seems to fit the athletic Bruins players.
Conditioning was something that Coach was always proud of for his teams. And it is important that we respect Coach's memory this year, as UCLA is appropriately doing:
School officials are leaving Wooden's seat vacant as a tribute to the man who guided UCLA to a record 10 national titles.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland said Wooden didn't attend many games last season because he could no longer walk, but Wooden "was at all the games my first six seasons."
Howland recalled Wooden being besieged for autographs at halftime of games and graciously fulfilling every request. Junior guard Malcolm Lee acknowledged it was difficult knowing that Wooden could no longer offer encouragement.
"That's why we're going into this season in memory of his name and trying to get this team back on the right track," Lee said.
We miss you Coach. Go Bruins!