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More Zona Reflections ...

Bruins are now on a 4 game winning streak against Olson's Arizona. For a few reasons, yesterday afternoon's win was most the satisfying of them all.

Bruins win came in against a Zona team which, as mentioned before, was desperate for a win to stay in the hunt for the Pac-10 title. So there was no doubt they would come out and give us everything they had. Yet, despite Zona's best effort, their incredibly talented all-everything starting-5 (at least according to the traditional media which was fawning all over them during their early season explosive winning streak), the Bruins came out and manhandled them on defense.

What I really love about our team is how they never lose their composure even when they get down. When Zona built up an 8 point first-half lead, the Bruins just regrouped, stayed within themselves, and battled back with suffocating defense. It happened against Southern Cal when they fell behind by 10 points, and it also happened against Oregon when they fell behind during first half. They just keep battling back, keeping playing defense, play smart, and given themselves opportunities to win the game. And they usually take advantage of those opportunities more than 90 percent of the time. After all, they now have a record of 27-2 since that loss against JustSC more than a year ago.

Ben Ball DEFENSE decimated Lute Olson's "NBA offense" yesterday afternoon. Bruins held the Wildcat to less than 40 percent shooting for the entire game. All those starters full of NBA dreams made only 3 out 15 attempted 3 pointers. And, despite having an advantage in overall talent/athleticism, they out rebounded a Bruin team playing without Luc by only 6 boards (36-30).

One of the big reasons last night's game was so fun to watch was how smart the Bruins played. As expected, Arizona played zone defense the whole game (hey, that's the only way Lute's NBA prima-donnas know how to play D). Bruins had some tough time with it in the early going but eventually solved it by attacking with quicker, crisper interior passing, and doing a good job of kicking it out to the open guys outside. From BBR's game wrap up:

As expected, the Wildcats played primarily zone throughout the game against UCLA, and except for Afflalo who hit three early three-point shots, the Bruins struggled early falling behind by eight points in the first half.

But the UCLA defense clamped down, allowing the team to go on a 18-4 run to end the half with a 35-29 lead.  The UCLA defense held Arizona to just 28.5% shooting and 2-9 from three-point distance in the first-half.

In addition, Howland introduced, for the first time this season, a four-guard alignment against the zone with Afflalo, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Michael Roll on the perimeter. The quicker line-up allowed the Bruins to aggressively attack the Wildcat zone at the seams, creating shots off good interior passing or kick-outs for open jumpers.

"After watching game film we went to four guards a lot today to attack their zone, " Howland said. "That's what's shown the most effectiveness, having four out and one in and we did a good job of that."

In the second half, the Bruin defense remained solid and the offense continued to pick apart the Wildcat zone.
Of course, AA and DC played their usual roles in leading the team on offense. But the guy who I thought sealed the deal for Bruins yesterday afternoon was Michael Roll. There was a sequence during the second half when Roll made two clutch 3 pointers in a row, and then after a Zona miss came down on the offensive end, found Shipp with a beautiful inside pass. Shipp scored to push the lead up to double digits, and from there on, there wasn't much doubt that the Bruins were going to win the game. Oh, Roll also sank a couple of clutch FTs (despite taking only 2 the whole season) in the last minute along with AA2 to seal the game.

Keep in mind folks (especially those who often get frustrated with Roll for not making like 60 percent of his 3 point shots) the kid is only a FREAKING sophomore. And he is already playing such a huge role for this team. Watch him closely. He usually sticks to his assignment on defense, makes the right passes, moves around on offense, and always gets himself at open spot to take good shots. Even getting limited minutes, he has already almost doubled his production in points and rebounds this season. He is doing more with less and he is playing a key role on defense. I like this kid's game a LOT.

Another kid who is going to play more and more a role in this team is Keefe. He played only 9 minutes yesterday. Yet in that time he made a 3 pointer, blocked a shot, and almost came up with a key offensive board. He was active.

Photo credit:Brian's Arizona at UCLA Slide Show

Again, I really hope in the upcoming weeks Howland gives Keefe more time so he can get more comfortable and gain confidence. If you watch him you will see how he is doing all the little things: setting picks, hustling back to play D, and staying active under the rim. I have heard how he has been looking great during practices. I have no doubt, the more time he gets, the better player he will become.

Of course, we have to give huge props to the future President of Cameroon - Mr. AA2. What a game. He was monster around the rim. Pulling down 11 boards, 6 on the offensive end. And he shot those clutch FTs to ice the game. He does need to get better at handling and catching the ball down low, but again that will come with confidence. Just like Roll, this kid is also just a sophomore who is only going to get better.

Many of us who are getting swept up in the remarkable success of Coach Howland keep forgetting how young this team is. BBR mentioned how Howland unveiled that 4 guard line up of DC, AA, Westbrook, and Roll. You have 2 sophomores and 1 freshman in that combination. And yet, they took apart a Zona team, which everyone was hailing as the team from the Pac-10. Just one of the many reasons yesterday's win was satisfying.

Now the Bruins cannot take it easy. They will go on a brutal Bay Area road swing this week and play against two improving teams who are capable of beating the Bruins on their home floor. In fact, if the Bruins get too comfortable and start believing in their own hype, they may come back from this swing 0-2 and find themselves in the same difficult situation Zona is in right now. Thankfully, we have a coach a like Howland who I am sure is going to drill that exact message into AA, DC and rest of their teammates the next few days. Hopefully, they will be listening.

They just can't afford to let up on the intensity and focus they showed yesterday at Pauley. We will have more on Cal later this week.