I will be honest. I am just having a hard time thinking about college basketball right now. Bruins (10-11, 5-4) have a big game tonight at Pauley when they open up the second half of the Pac-10 season against Stanford Cardinal (10-11, 4-5). The only things I have thought about when it comes to UCLA-Stanford last few days were centered around Jordan Zumwalt and where UCLA and Stanford would wind up in the final recruiting rankings. Well, hopefully yesterday was a good omen for tonight.
I really hope the Bruins are zeroed in on this game unlike the majority of us who have been swept up in the recruiting fever thanks to Rick Neuehisel. This is a very important game and a must win if the Bruins want to keep hopes alive for getting better through rest of the season and making an improbable run into the Big Dance (well I personally don't think there is much of chance with this starting rotation but they are alive at least on paper).
For the Cards they are coming off an awful road trip in Arizona where they just got plastered by Arizona State. Those guys are 0-8 on the road which scares me because it makes it appear as if they are due. Of course our last game against them was a total disaster when Jeremy Green torched our backcourt and we simply looked like Ben Ball Clowns turning the ball over the court. Well according to the Daily News, the Bruins think they are more "comfortable" playing zone this time and also they are going to more "controlled":
We're actually playing (zone) now," said Roll, who leads the Bruins at 13 points per game. "Nobody has ever played zone here in a long time; it was just something we did in practice to prepare for a game. Now that we're playing it all the time, we're learning it, we're talking more, we're getting more comfortable as a team."
Against the Cardinal, UCLA was anything but comfortable.
The Bruins committed a season-high 23 turnovers, and caved down the stretch, as a 51-50 Stanford lead ballooned into the 11-point final margin.
After another particularly sloppy effort - UCLA had 20 turnovers in a 62-52 loss to Oregon State on Saturday - the Bruins still believe they can turn it around in time for the Cardinal.
They'll need to if they want to compete.
"Moreso than anything, it's just understanding that we have to play smart and intelligent," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "We had some really bad turnovers in that first Stanford game. We had the ball down one and Mike Roll threw it away, really an uncharacteristic turnover. Really, we were dribbling too much."
Other Bruins are focused on the defensive side - particularly the comfort they feel in the zone defense.
"I think we're going to play a lot different this game," freshman forward Reeves Nelson said. "We're going to be a lot more controlled and play smarter. It's a totally different team, almost a 180-degree change. We've got a lot more used to playing zone and being able to key in on shooters."
It's kind of funny Nelson talking about being in control. LOL I don't mean that to be too critical because he is one of my favorite players in this team. I found it ironic to hear him talk about playing in control because he is the one that often seems to be supplying all the emotion and energy of this team. I think it's a sign of growing maturity on his part and his continued development into being one of the unquestioned leaders heading into next season. The Times has a pretty good profile on Nelson who has been nicknamed "the Rage" by his team-mates:
There are the seven tattoos, all etched into his skin since he arrived in Westwood, each with a special meaning. There is that scowl, part of that please-try-and-stop-me will that drives him. There is unshakable confidence that has allowed him to succeed as a freshman this season.
That package can be summed up simply: "He's a beast for us," senior guard Michael Roll said.
Nelson knows his reputation is established. Teammates have dubbed him "Rage," while Bruins fans cheer when he throws his 6-foot-8, 230-pound body around the court.
Nelson is averaging 15 points and eight rebounds off the bench in the last four games heading into Thursday's game against Stanford at Pauley Pavilion. The Cardinal is 10-11 overall, 4-5 in Pacific 10 Conference. UCLA is 10-11, 5-4.
Nelson has given the Bruins an inside presence they lacked earlier this season, especially after center Drew Gordon left the team in December.
"It doesn't matter if guy is his size, 6-10. When he gets the ball, he's going to do good things," point guard Malcolm Lee said.
We are going to need every bit of that "controlled" rage tonight to get a win against what will be another desperate Pac-10 team trying to do whatever it can to keep their own hopes alive in this pathetic league.
They key again for the Bruins will be the factors we have been outlining all season long: patience on offense (so that we are not counting on long 3 bombs from you know who), being smart with the ball, and all out 40 minutes of hustle and energy on defense (whether we are playing zone or man). Bruins better be focused and ready to come out with energy this game because they really need to redeem themselves for that disgraceful performance at Maples few weeks ago.
Hopefully the incredible energy the football program injected into the entire athletic department yesterday rubs off on the basketball team inside Pauley today. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm PST. We will see you half hour before tipoff.