Tonight. UCLA plays Oregon in what could be an ill-timed match up for the Bruins in their first game in the Pac-10 tournament. Why? Well, in the two victories over the Ducks, UCLA's back-court trio of Lee, Anderson, and Jones scored 45 points in each game or 69% of the Bruins points for both games. Lee was the leading scorer in both. And right now our back-court, including Tyler Lamb, is hurting.
So how bad is the health of our back-court? The Orange County Register jokes about it but the joke is not far from the mark.
This week UCLA coach Ben Howland hasn't called roll at practice so much as he's made hospital rounds. All-Pac-10 guard Malcolm Lee has a knee injury that will require postseason surgery. One back-up guard Jerime Anderson, the team's top perimeter shooter, has a viral illness. Another top reserve guard Tyler Lamb has strep throat. There's even a case of pink eye on the team. . . .
Lee was able to make it through what UCLA officials characterized as a very limited practice on Wednesday and is expected to play Thursday. . . .
Lee decided to play after UCLA doctors told he and his family that continuing to play does not put him at risk of further damage. Dealing with the pain is another issue. "It's more like pain tolerance," he said. . . .
"I'm concerned about Jerime being ready for Thursday," Howland added.
Howland also added that he is going to reduce Lee's minutes, although he expects Lee to be fine:
Although UCLA coach Ben Howland said there is no risk of further injury, he plans to take Lee’s minutes per game down to around 30. Lee is currently averaging 35.5 minutes per game.
"I don’t expect him to be hampered," Howland said. "I think he’ll be fine."
Beating a team three times in a season can be tough. Beating them the third time with the players who were key to that effort sick and hurting may even be harder. Maybe the good news is for the first time since February 2, our starting PG, Lazeric Jones, is NOT on the official injury report. I have not heard that he is going to play without his wrist bandaged so this may just be a case that they did not have room for Jones on the the report.
More break-down after the jump.So with Lee limited in minutes, concerns about Jerime being ready, it is time for the underclassman to step up. Nelson had a terrible game the first time we played Oregon finishing with 0 points and being taken out of the game by the chippy tactics of the Ducks players especially E.J. Singler. The Ducks really are playing for everything tonight as they need to keep winning to even have a winning record for any type of postseason. How will Reeves deal with it in a game where the juniors Lee and Anderson may be limited? It will be an interesting, but as WWL's Peter Yoon writes in his UCLA review, the "biggest Surprise so far" has been:
Reeves Nelson maturation.
Nelson's talent has never been an issue and it's no surprise that he's the team's leading scorer and rebounder, but he has simply grown up throughout he course of the season.
Early on, he'd go through extended periods of pouting and playing with low energy when things didn't go his way. He'd be short and dismissive with the coaches, his teammates and the media and it seemed as if the Bruins might have to deal with a spoiled prima donna type all season.
He still has his moments, but Nelson has grown up a lot throughout the course of this season, asking to guard the opponent's best player, injecting the team with energy when needed and becoming one of the most insightful players on the court.
If UCLA is to go far in the Pac-10 tournament, let alone the big dance, Reeves will have to continue to mature. Josh Smith has obviously matured (only 4 or more fouls twice in the last 11 games after 4 fouls in each of his first five games) but will have to continue to develop his game. Tonight is a good test on that front.
Both Reeves and Smith may have awkward match-ups tonight. E.J. Singler, who had was key to the Ducks victory over Arizona State last night, will likely match-up some with Reeves. Reeves lost his cool the first time against Singler. Similarly, Joevan Catron did a good job drawing fouls and limited Smith to just 14 minutes (his fewest in the Pac-10 besides the Cal game in which he got hurt) by taking him outside.
With the back-court hurting both Nelson and Reeves will have to step up and play smart. This would also be a nice time for Tyler Honeycutt to start showing why he is first team All-Pac-10. Speaking of awards, CBH agrees with all Bruins fans and most knowledgeable basketball fans on the Pac-10 selections:
Howland seemed more disappointed than Malcolm Lee that the junior guard was not selected the Pac-10's defensive player of the year, an award that went to USC's Marcus Simmons.
"Malcolm Lee's the best defender — I've said that — in our league," Howland said. "The kid who won it, Marcus Simmons, is terrific, no question. He does a great job too and is also deserving, but I'm for Malcolm."
But more than the awards or the injuries, what is the mindset of the Bruins right now:
Today’s second-round game against the Ducks could actually prove to be the most important.
"We’ve got to win the first game just to get a considerate seeding," Lee said. "If we lose the first game it will drop us a lot, and we don’t want that to happen. … But even if everything goes wrong, we’ve got to get this first game out of the way."
Lee and a few of his teammates said they think winning the Pac-10 tournament could push UCLA as high as a No. 5 seed.
But simply getting a No. 7 seed or higher could be critical because it would allow the Bruins to bypass No. 1 seeds in the second round, if they make it that far.
"In the second game, we don’t want to come against a Duke or Ohio State," Lee said. "But if that happens, so be it. We think we can compete with any team in the country."
I don't know about a 5 seed but staying out west could be key for this team.
What is more interesting despite the many injuries and the OCR joking that Howland is now a doctor the Bruins are not talking about throwing in the towel to rest for the Big Dance as they feel they have something important to play for:
"We still regret and wish we could take back the games against Cal and Washington," forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "We feel like we should have won the conference and now we have a chance to do it another way." . . .
"Most of all we probably need to get some more confidence and momentum going into the NCAA play," guard Malcolm Lee said. . . .
Nobody would blame the Bruins if they simply threw in the towel and focused their efforts on trying to get healthy before the NCAA tournament, but that isn't even a thought in this team's mentality.
Not only would the players like to redeem themselves for coming up short in the regular season, they'd also like to exact a little revenge in a potential semifinal matchup with Washington -- the only team to sweep UCLA in the regular season.
Personally, I am a bit for the resting idea but the one thing about these Bruins is while they went through well documented lulls (e.g. Oregon led both games at half time), they never gave up and always fought to the end. I guess the Pac-10 tournament will be no different. Hopefully they won't be trailing tonight at halftime but I wouldn't be surprised.