Bruins are still alive in 2009-10 basketball season yet I can't get past a feeling of ambivalence and dread. This if course goes totally against this post from last night exhorting the students to get out to Staples (the call also applies to all the alums and fans). Our inconsistent and pathetic season on the court have turned all of us into total schizophrenic fans observers the court.
Part of me doesn't want to care at all given I don't see much of chance for the Bruins prevailing against the Bears (22-9, 13-5). The Bears roll into this game after a thorough 90-74 demolition of Oregon Ducks in Ernie Kent's last game. The game was more lopsided then the final score indicates as the Bears were pretty much perfect until Monty took out his starters early in the first half. Jerome Randle was on fire as he scored all of his 22 points in the first half. He connected on all of his 8 FG attempts which included 4 bombs from the 3 point lines. The Bears bombed the Ducks into oblivion early on by making 9 3 point shots in the first half. Randle got more than enough help from Patrick Christopher, who scored 21, making 5 of 9 3 point shots.
I just don't see Bruins all on a sudden playing smart defense and patient offense against this kind of well coached team for 40 minutes. Yet another part of me is going to force me to watch the game after reading about the pep talk Michael Roll gave before yesterday's game:
[Bruins] expressed their will against a team that had swept them during the regular season by taking senior Michael Roll's pregame words to heart: "I just want to keep playing," he told them. [...]
The Bruins (14-17) shot 53% and, despite a resume that would suggest UCLA might stand for Ugly Collapse, Lost Again, held off an Arizona team that pulled to within 58-55 with eight minutes left.
The Bruins, who shot 62% from the free-throw line this season, made five of six down the stretch to fulfill Roll's request.
"I told them, ‘Whether it's clapping on the bench or coming in and taking a charge, do something to help the team,' " said Roll, who had 18 points. "I'm not ready to go home."
Roll started things off by sinking a three-pointer to give UCLA a 3-2 lead. The Bruins never trailed from there.
"Mike doesn't say much, so when he does we listen," freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt said.
Hard not to feel inspired by that and feel for Mike when you read that today. Yet the realist in me sees all the good vibes getting wiped out by a heaping cold dose of reality courtesy of Mike Montgomery's Bears.
I really have no idea how the Bruins can beat the Bears this afternoon. Yes, we got one against them at Hass. However, we got pretty damn lucky considering it looked the Bears were totally overlooking us and came in not ready to play. They were very lethargic that evening, making only 2 of their 18 3 point attempts. Yet thanks to the defensive debacle on our end were able to stretch it to overtime. It took a miracle bank from Jerime to Roll to win this game and I don't see how we replicate that all over again. When they came to Pauley, they were true to their form as the best 3 point shooting team in the conference (.377), connecting on 10 out of their 24 3 pt attempts. That game wasn't close even though the Bruins got out to a good start.
While the Bears were hot at Pauley and have been hot from the 3 point the line, another huge difference between the two games was how Monty extended his perimeter defense at Pauley to completely choke and bottle up our backcourt. The Bears athletic back court of Randle, Christopher put intense ball pressure on Malcolm Lee and Roll (Jerime only played for 10 minutes while Mustafa logged 7) which we didn't have any answer for and couldn't adjust to in the second half. Heading into tonight's game, I don't see how that scenario changes given how much of grove both Randle and Christopher are in, and the kind of support they have been getting from players such as Jamal Boykin, Theo Robertson, Omondi Amoke and Jorge Gutierrez.
Jorge is a scrappy and defensive oriented pg who comes off the bench and provides them with a big lift. He is a great 3 point shooter from the outside (at least number wise). So he doesn't seem like any kind of offensive liability and from the games I have watched he seems like a fearless kid who has no problem taking it straight to the rack. He sat out our first game against them and the Bears looked like a different team with him in the lineup when they came to Pauley.
So if you were to look strictly along the line of matchups, the Bears should be the overwhelming favorites tonight. They are more athletic than us and they have lot more quality experience in their four seniors compared to what we have in Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic (who still plays like a high school sophomore). Yet there might be a little glimmer of hope for the Bruins. It was interesting to see the Bruins mix it up with both zone and man-to-man yesterday afternoon. Not sure how Ben Howland is going to get our guys prepared for the Bears but who knows he might pick up something for Craig Robinson's Beavers who seemed to stifle the Bears with his 1-3-1 zone defense.
I am not suggesting Bruins all on a sudden try out a 1-3-1 zone. I do think it could be interesting if the Bruins tilt their zone defense with special attention on Randle's side of the court. It would be very important for the Bruins to make sure Randle doesn't have any kind of separation when he is launching his long bombs. If the Bruins can play hard aggressive defense against him, they could make it interesting because he sometimes tend to get frustrated (although he has been on fire of late). Similarly the Bruins cannot lose track of Christopher on the other side like they didn't forget about Kyle Fogg.
On the offensive end, it is going to be all about being patient (I wonder how many times I have used that word this season), unselfish and setting each other up for good shots. It means the Bruins will have to work on running the clock (effectively) and not take stupid 3s with 15 seconds or more left in the shot clock. They should also look for Reeves Nelson down low. In fact we should try to get Rags positioned down low. The clown is a tall 6'9 clown after all and he is a good FT shooter. So why not feed him down low. What was encouraging yesterday that Nelson was not only getting his points but he wasn't a total black hole in the low blocks like he has been the entire season. So if the Bruins can focus on being smart and patient, playing with tenacity for 40 mins, well we could have a shot.
Then again, all of this is academic if Christopher and Theo Robertson are hot (and they scorched us last time at Pauley). The Bears simply looked unstoppable last night and I am not sure how they can come out and get off rhythm in less than 24 hours. Plus you can bet Monty is going to chomp at the idea of taking advantage of Rag's 35+ mins and shred our defense. We can probably assume that Jerime is going to follow up his average performance last night with his usual lost and confused form that has been the norm most of the season.
So like I said above it is hard not being schizo about this basketball team. Still I chuckled at this line from Rag that was in the topline of today's LA Times:
"My dad just called me," UCLA senior forward Nikola Dragovic said. "He asked me how come we don't play like that all the time."
What else is left there to say? The tipoff is scheduled for 6 pm PST. The game thread will go up about half an hour before tipoff.