TAMPA, FL - MARCH 19: Anthony Stover #0 of the UCLA Bruins returns tonight. We will need him to play big on defense. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Starting today, UCLA will play three games in three days. For those watching UCLA sports this year that means we could go 0-5 to start the year. All right, maybe that is too pessimistic, right? But before the season I thought this would be a look ahead preview but right now it is a "could-we-really-lose-to-a-Division II" team preview of tonight's game at 6:35 p.m. PST.
"We've got to find a way to win a game," Ben Howland, the Bruins coach, told reporters after the MTSU thumping.
Well, here's a solution: The Bruins get Chaminade in their opener of the rugged Maui Invitational next week. Then again, Chaminade's opener in that tournament is always a crusade for the host school, and if UCLA loses that one, Howland may order his guys to take catamarans home. A win gets them a berth opposite the Georgetown-Kansas winner in the semifinals.
Last week, the Sports Illustrated jinx took it to new heights. Bruins forward Reeves Nelson was on our regional cover of the magazine, and after UCLA's opening loss, he was suspended for poor conduct. I was told by a longtime observer of the program that it's been a long series of insolent behavior on Nelson's part, not just the lateness for a team meeting and absence from practice Sunday. Nelson has been reinstated to the team and was due to resume practicing Thursday. . . .
On the floor, the guard play has been terrible, especially on defense. Astonishingly, they've allowed 20 threes in 26 attempts in the two losses.
When your starting back-court is shooting 8-38 and it is not their biggest problem, you know you are in trouble. When your Sports Illustrated cover boy gets thrown off the team, albeit briefly, and follows that up by missing the plane to Hawaii, you have to feel jinxed. Or this statistic, which I don't think has ever been said of a Ben Howland team:
Opponents are shooting 57.4 percent against UCLA, which is last among Division I teams, while the Bruins are shooting only 38.9 percent.
Can we lose to Chaminade Silverswords?
I don't think so. The Silverswords are only shooting 28% from three. So hopefully they won't go off from three like UCLA's last two opponents did. The Silverswords are led by a 6'8" senior forward:
Chaminade senior forward/center Matt Cousins (Santa Rosa, CA/Cardinal Newman) has been selected the first Pacific West Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Week for the 2011-12 campaign. The honor was announced by the PacWest Media Office in Phoenix, AZ, on Monday, Nov. 14, for games contested Nov. 4-13.
Cousins led the Silverswords to a 2-0 week by averaging 20.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, topping the PacWest in both categories. He also ranked ninth in shooting in the conference, making 54.5% (12 of 22) of his field goal attempts.
Cousins has been unspectacular but solid so far in his career. Cousins will like be guarded by Reeves or Travis Wear. He is only 6'8" but is Chaminade's biggest player.
They also have a Serbian forward named Darko Vukasovic who on paper and judging by his highlight tape is a true small forward. In other words, I am not sure David Wear can handle him man-to-man, but David may not play as much as he is recovering from a concussion.
The rest of the front-court features Rickey Clayborn, a sixth year (?) senior seemingly inside-only player who averaged more rebounds than points per game in JC. I think he will likely face Josh Smith and Stover inside. Stover is going to play and Howland is expecting his return to help the defense.
The PG is freshman Lee Bailey who is shooting better than Zeek overall, but 0-5 from three this year. Last but not least in Bennie Murray of Inglewood, who can make three pointers, is shooting well, and a key to the team:
The Swords claimed their second GNAC/PacWest Challenge Championship
Coach Bovaird saw some execution he liked. "Bennie had a breakout night. I thought we played excellent defense as well, the guys played with a lot of energy. The 17 offensive rebounds were huge. "
Last but not least the coach has some interesting comments. He talks about a full court press and it will be interesting to see if they employ that in a tournament in which they are going to play three games in three days. Also, keep in mind every story on the Silverswords has to mention their 1982 win over Virginia and Ralph Sampson. Expect that to compete for the "Josh Selby" award for most mentioned story not relevant to the game at hand award for this year:
Eric Bovaird is set to begin his first season as Head Coach of the Chaminade University of Honolulu Silverswords. Bovaird was a long time First Assistant at fellow NCAA Division II, West Liberty University in Wheeling, WV. In his seven years at West Liberty, the Hilltoppers had the highest winning percentage in all of NCAA Div. II Men's Basketball. Remarkably, over that seven year stretch, the Hilltoppers led the nation in scoring six of the last seven years. They finished last year's season 33-1 and averaged 111 ppg.
Coach Bovaird has been very instrumental in developing the most exciting, winning style of basketball in the country. West Liberty has garnished nation attention with its ferocious full court pressure defense and instant offense and Bovaird plans on implementing this style at Chaminade.
"I am really excited to bring a very unique, winning style of basketball to Chaminade. Chaminade has had a great history of basketball and we hope to make our mark in its history too. While it may be tough to compare to the 1982 upset of then #1 in the nation, Virginia with Ralph Sampson, I am sure our players will learn a unique style of basketball and give anyone a run for their money. Chaminade has very special trademarks that make it unique. Student athletes have a great place to get an exceptional education from people who truly care about them and their future. Basketball wise, you get an unreal opportunity to play in a great conference, the Pac West, and play three games in the EA Sports Maui Invitational against great teams on national television."
Honestly I am more interested in the way we play than the final score. These next three days will be the first time the whole team will be able to play in a game and hopefully tonight will be the beginning of a more complete team game for UCLA.
"There is definitely a sense of urgency, no question," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "We have not played well at either end. We have changed some things defensively and added a few more sets offensively. But we just have to execute better."