CNNSI's Luke Winn was at the Pond last weekend and was impressed with the number 1 team in the nation. While rest of college basketball and Bruin haters are downplaying UCLA's number 1 ranking, Luke is more than impressed. Here is Luke on how Howland's high intensity, defensive oriented attack is rulling the nation:Ben Howland lingered for a while at the Honda Center on Saturday, following his top-ranked Bruins' 65-62 win over No. 6 Texas A&M in the Wooden Classic. The UCLA coach was telling a small group of reporters that the victory had felt like an NCAA tournament game -- and that he believed his team is better than last year's Final Four squad was in December -- when Billy Gillispie came walking down the hall.
"It was a fun game," the Aggies coach told Howland as they exchanged handshakes.
"I," retorted Howland, "didn't have fun."
Howland was kidding -- at least partly. A coach whose team swept the Maui Invitational in late November, and just defeated an elite Big 12 team to go 8-0, has to be having some fun. But fun, in reality, isn't an integral part of UCLA's winning formula. The higher-paced, higher-scoring attacks of, say, North Carolina or Arizona might be more en vogue in 2006-07, but Howland's high-intensity, defensive-oriented attack is what's presently ruling the nation. His previous team, Pittsburgh, is No. 2 in the polls under former assistant Jamie Dixon, and the fact his Bruins can win early season slugfests on neutral courts, despite playing unpleasant basketball, is precisely why they've risen to -- and stayed -- No. 1. Even on bad days, they're still good enough to tough out a victory. I disagree with Luke's assertion that Howland's basketball is not "fun." I think it's more than obvious every single member of Howland's program have bought into what Coach Howland is teaching and are having a great time.
Despite that mischaracterization Luke's article is still pretty solid with other astute observations on our program, including the post defense of our big guys: UCLA's size deficiency is canceled out by its commitment to post-denial. Leading up to the game, Howland extolled the physicality of Texas A&M's post duo, 6-9, 250-pound Joseph Jones and 6-10, 250-pound Antanas Kavaliauskas. The Bruins' Lorenzo Mata (6-9, 240) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (6-8, 230), as well as reserve Alfred Aboya (6-8, 235) gave up a lot of pounds, but didn't get schooled. They held Jones and Kavaliauskas to 17 points, which was 8.6 under their combined average. Afterwards, Gillispie remarked that UCLA's post players were "a little tougher than I'd seen on tape."
The Bruins lack a true center, but their aggressiveness in denying post entries -- and then doubling down on the blocks if the ball does get inside -- makes it extremely difficult for traditional big men to have monster games. Only Florida's mobile giants, who could run and pass well enough to avoid UCLA's black-and-blue D, have been able to exploit the Bruins' weaknesses. It was telling that when A&M looked to Jones for a clutch shot in the final minute, he stepped outside to take a three -- and missed it -- rather than bang in the lane. Make sure to read the whole article.
This is the kind of great publicity a program gets when it is number 1 in the nation. Noting wrong with that.