Since we all need a little pick me up, let's get back to hoops. We are just a day away from Ben Ball now. I can't recall this kind of excitement before a basketball exhibition game since 1994-95. I mean, we write about hoops a lot here on BN, but even last season we didn't get into the hoops team until after the pre-season NIT got started in mid-November. But, here we are, and everyone is pumped and jumping for Bruin hoops. The Daily News has good notes on the team today. Looks like freshman Russell Westbrook is impressing Coach Howland, and Mata is on track for recovery from his minor surgery. Jill Painter reports
Westbrook, UCLA's backup point guard, wasn't able to run the show for the second team in scrimmages after his nose was hit in last Wednesday's practice.
He woke up with headaches Thursday, and Westbrook's concussion-like symptoms kept him out of practice until Tuesday. He competed in some drills, including a 5-on-0 drill designed just for him, played with no contact.
Westbrook is going to play this season, so when Howland began to put some of the 172 sets in that he ran last season, he wanted to make sure Westbrook was involved, even if it meant using no defenders.
"There's no question he's our backup point guard," Howland said. "To me, he's the biggest surprise with his play in practice and his quick learning."
Mata on track: Lorenzo Mata, who had successful arthroscopic surgery on his right knee a few weeks ago, is still targeting the opener against BYU for his return. Mata was shooting free throws Tuesday. He also rode the stationary bike, ran on the treadmill and did some jumping for the first time.
In any event, just one more day to go. BBR has written up its season preview for Ben Ball. Here is the executive summary:
How much more? Both coach and players are saying they definitely plan to run more, but they also sing the chorus that defense wins championships.
While college basketball experts point out that NCAA champions typically score over 70 points a game - the Bruins averaged 67.7 points last season, Howland is quick to counter that NCAA champions usually hold opponents to below 40% shooting.
"The fact we (UCLA) shot 41% against Florida and lost in the champion game was an aberration," Howland said. "Great defense will usually win games."
Taking this into account, the Bruins will run more this season, perhaps not as much as a Duke team but somewhere in between. It took Howland three seasons to instill a sense of toughness and defensive intensity into his Bruin teams - its highly unlikely he will ever move far away from this base.
Also, continuing with pre-season previews, Fox Sports' Yoni Cohen has some very nice things to say about Ben Ball in Westwood:
First, UCLA returns the player who many assumed would last year be their most valuable and versatile contributor. No, not Jordan Farmar, now in the NBA. Josh Shipp, the exceptional slasher with tremendous rebounding ability. Sidelined most of last season by a hip injury, Shipp returns to provide the Bruins with additional scoring punch.
Second, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a strong, long forward with great footwork. After a sensational freshman campaign, he's ready to contribute 16 points a game. The Cameroon native improved as last season went on and will this year be asked to assume a leadership role. Look for him to be the Bruins' first option down low.
Third, UCLA isn't rebuilding, it's reloading. Departed center Ryan Hollins had solid size and improved as the season progressed, but there is little reason to believe that heralded recruit James Keefe and junior Lorenzo Mata won't be able to match his production. Mata's second knee surgery in four months, however, is cause for concern. Graduated forward Cedric Bozeman knew his place in the offense and his replacement, Michael Roll, should as well. Though Farmar was a unique talent, sophomore point guard Darren Collison impressed last season and should prove a serviceable replacement.
Fourth and finally, last year's success was the result of Howland's defensive-minded system more than a product of any particular player or set of players. Starting five upperclassmen, including lockdown defender Arron Afflalo, Howland's Bruins should again be able to wreak defensive havoc in and out of conference.
If you are attending the exhibition game tomorrow night please make sure post your takes in the diary section. I don't believe the game is televised. So we'd be interested in hearing your first hand impression of the 06-07 unveiling of Ben Ball.