The depressing UCLA basketball regular season will finally come to an end this afternoon in the Arizona desert. Considering today is Saturday and that the game is on national TV (CBS), we can't blame anyone if they are just approaching the tip off with total dread or if they decide to skip it all together. Yet we know overwhelming majority of the BNers will either be watching the game or obsessively checking via their blackberries or iphones just to keep tabs on what is going on. Even though there is not much to play for in terms of this season, I still think this afternoon's game will be interesting to watch for few reasons.
First, let's go back once again to Thursday night's game to recalibrate our perspective just a bit. Let's put aside all the obvious negative storylines form this season which basically hit a crescendo in the waning moments in Tucson. At this point I don't think there is any point in engaging over debates in terms of mins of Nikola Dragovic and Jerime Anderson. I think the debates on their minutes even if Ben Howland continues to stick with the same rotation for rest of this season is not really worth it. Yeah, nothing wrong with venting frustrations during game threads which is a different beast, but not really worth it to get analytical over those issues.
The reason I wanted to get back to Arizona game was the fact that we had a great chance of winning that game even though we were missing one regular starter (Reeves Nelson), one regular contributor (James Keefe), and a big body in Bobo Morgan (who can still give minutes, okay ... well didn't mean to bring up a sore topic). Anyway, considering how we got blown out by Arizona at Pauley, we had a great opportunity to win that game and might have been able to get it done if we didn't lose Malcolm Lee for valuable time in second half. With that perspective in the backdrop, I think there is still a chance for the Bruins to go into the Pac-10 tournament with a modicum of positive frame in next few days.
Second, I think the Bruins actually matchup better with Arizona State than they do against Arizona. The reason I say that is that this year - given their obvious deficiencies in the back court - our guys have been vulnerable to teams that can exert heavy ball pressure. As a result we haven't fared well against teams such as Washington, Oregon, Cal, Southern Cal, and Oregon this season. Meanwhile, we have done all right against teams such as Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona State and Stanford, who don't really exert the kind of ball pressure that can easily rattle our guards.
Arizona State plays a very methodical 1-3-1 zone ala Oregon State. They have an extremely savvy senior pg in Derek Glasser. Besides him though they don't have anyone who can wreck havoc with our backcourt. So if our guys on offense can play with patience and focus on execution, they will have a chance against that defense. Once again it will mean relying more on the passing abilities of Michael Roll, Tyler Honeycutt, running the shot clock and setting up for good looks, than relying on three point makes. We have shown the ability to do just that when our guys put their mind into it. If the Bruins come out and play with determination for the entire 40 mins ...well you know how the story goes.
The challenge though is on the defensive front as we can assume Arizona State will play much better than they did in the opening half in our first matchup. They have three other guys besides Derek Glasser - Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks, and Jamelle McMillan - who are shooting 39 percent or better from the 3 point line. Their senior center Eric Boateng (6-10, 257) has been coming along late this season. He has made 14 consecutive shots over three games, including an 11-of-11 effort at Stanford that matched a school and Pac-10 record for most field goals without a miss. Overall, he is shooting 65.8 percent, which challenges Jeff Pendergraph's school-record mark of 66.0 percent, set last season. They have been playing pretty well together, winning six of seven before losing their showdown at Berkeley .
ASU is a very well coached team that runs precise offensive sets to set each other up for solid shots. To defend them it will mean the Bruins will have to cover well and be cognizant of multiple shooting threats. Unfortunately for us besides Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt we don't have any credible defensive options. Brendan Lane actually has been coming along and probably helps us more with locking up our interior zone defense than any of our other forwards, but that is being relative in a squad that has been pretty clueless and pathetic.
So for the Bruins to have a shot against these guys they will need to play their zone defense with intense focus for the entire 40 minutes. Again, that's a tall order for a UCLA team which has probably given 40 minutes of intense defensive effort probably once or twice this entire season. It is going to be even tougher considering its ASU's senior day and they are going to be chomping for a victory over the four letters, which will inch them closer to a tourney bid.
Still with all those factors going against them, unlike their matchups against Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Cal and Southern Cal, at least schematically the Bruins will have a shot (IF and only IF they come out and play mentally tough). Bruins are going to need a tough effort from Honeycutt who has been playing like heat seeking missile (going after rebounds) and Michael Roll who as many of us expected is having a solid senior season. Roll leads conference in league play in three-point field goal percentage at 44.4 percent (44-for-99) and ranks fourth in three-pointers made per game (2.6). In overall games on the season, he ranks second in percentage (.435, 73-for-168) and third in treys per game (2.5). He is doing more than that playing all around game as much as possible within his athletic ability.
Coach Howland is also looking for a "Superman" effort from Lee:
The nagging cramps that attacked UCLA sophomore guard Malcolm Lee earlier this season came back to bite him in the second half of the team's 78-73 loss to Arizona on Thursday. Lee exited the game with 15 minutes, 19 seconds left and the Bruins up 12.
He returned at the 9:15 mark. UCLA's lead was three.
"It really hurt us - I don't know what the score was when he came out, I think it was 10 or 11, but when he came back in, the momentum had change," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It hurts when he's not in the game, but it's no fault of his. He's been trying to address it throughout the season, but I'm asking him to do a Superman feat here of playing really hard."
Now only if he goes with Abdul-Hamid today when Lee needs a breather at 1. Anyway.
As I said above, at this point at least for yours truly, I am going to try my best (and I know I will slip a lot) to lay off the debates concerning the issues that have effectively gone through exhaustive examination all season. The underlying concerns around those issues haven't gone away and we are going to be talking about them through a prism focused on the next season.
As for today, we should probably just tune in and watch this regular season mercifully head towards a closure. The tipoff is scheduled for 1 pm PST. The game thread will up about half an before the tip. See you then.