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The Steelers of College Basketball

Brian Dohn has an awesome article this morning on how Coach Howland has rebuilt UCLA program based on his mantra of playing inside-the-jersey defense:

"It's no secret. You want to win, play good defense," Howland said. "I love the Steelers, and you have to if you live in Pittsburgh. How'd they win this year? They played great defense.

"It doesn't matter what sport you're talking about. The best teams in baseball are the teams that pitch and defend. Then you get a great hitting team and you're the Yankees."

UCLA will face the fourth-highest scoring offense (81.8 ppg) in the nation Thursday when it plays No. 15 seed Belmont in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego, but as one Atlantic Sun coach put it, "Belmont doesn't play defenses like UCLA's defense" in conference play.

In fact, few teams play defense the way UCLA has lately. During the Bruins' current seven-game winning streak, no opponent scored more than 60 points. In three wins in the Pac-10 Tournament, UCLA allowed 52.7 points per game, held opponents to 37.8 percent shooting from the field and won by an average of 21 points.

"They don't give you a lot of (easy) baskets," California coach Ben Braun said of the Bruins. "You're going to have to make the extra pass. You're not going to be able to spread them out and get easy one-on-one (opportunities). They're going to be in proper position."

UCLA is 17th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 59.1 points per game. UCLA hasn't allowed less than 60 points per game in a season since 1958-59. Last season, UCLA allowed an average of 71.7 points per game.

The Bruins are 92nd out of 326 Division I teams in field-goal defense, as opponents are shooting 42.1 percent per game, but that ranks UCLA second in the Pac-10.

Furthermore, the Bruins held opponents under 40-percent shooting 14 times this season, and won 13 of those games. Of the seven occasions on which the Bruins (27-6) allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent, three times it resulted in a loss.

"We do what we're asked to do, and we see the results that come from it," UCLA sophomore point guard Jordan Farmar said. "It makes you want to work to do it, because all anybody in this program cares about is winning. And that's been my biggest transformation. I've always said I'll do whatever it takes to win, and if that's what it takes, for me to do my best defensively and still be able to be a playmaker and floor general, that's what I'm going to do."
Those are remarkable words from a pg who came into UCLA because of his offensive abilities as the floor-general. To see Jordan talking about defense this way puts an exclamation point on how much every player in this program has totally bought into Howland's philosophy putting their personal ambitions side. And the great thing about it focusing on his defensive game will only boost Jordan's own NBA stock (when he is ready).

Also, another thing the Dohn article mentioned was a specific intense Howland practice session the team held the Tuesday after our last game against USC. Apparently it was a practice so intense even by Howland standards that left a distinct impression on the whole team and propelled them to its current run. Everyone has been talking about that Tuesday practice. Springer in his LA Times report this morning has more on that practice after USC. And the stories on this practice have been trickling out ever since this SI article (written by a Trojan shill by the way) came out earlier in the week. Well ... at this point hope our boys are practicing their hearts out getting ready for San Diego.  Because as Coach Howland says, ?[h]ow we're playing out there right now is exactly how we practice every day." Let's hope they are practicing just like Cowher's troops were flying around at the UPMC before their first playoff game against a Trojie - Carson Palmer.

GO (UCLA) Bruins.