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Committment to Defense

Missed out on this pretty good Steve Dilbeck (who usually writes for the Daily News) column on UCLA basketball from this past weekend. Dilbeck tried to pin point on what makes our Ben Ball warriors tick. I think these grafs sum up what Ben Ball is all about quite well:

The Bruins are not a finished product, not some super college team without defect. They lack a dominant inside player. Free throws remain a mysterious weakness. The zone defenses that teams continue throwing at them still present problems. On Saturday, particularly in the first half, they struggled with the Wildcats' zone.

Yet when Arizona jumped to a 25-17 lead with 6:19 to play, one of UCLA's greatest strengths went on display: An undying confidence, a calm borne partly from last year's NCAA Tournament run and partly from the type of players coach Ben Howland has assembled.

"It's unbelievable how tough they are mentally," Howland said. "We got down 25-17 and they never dropped their heads. They are coming back every time. That's the attitude.

"It starts with the leadership within the team. We have great team leadership amongst our players. We have great kids."

After falling behind by eight to Arizona, UCLA responded with a 13-0 run.

"We always stay positive," Afflalo said.

During their run, five Bruins scored. And none was Afflalo, their leading scorer.

"I know I'm our leading scorer, and I'm going to get my shots, but we just play," Afflalo said. "You won't see me consistently the leading scorer on this team night in and night out. Darren's going to be there, Josh, Luc."
That's really it. Our guys just battle. They never give up. If you really look at our guys on paper they are not the most talented or the most highly recruited players in the country. The core of this team is still made up of Howland's first two recruiting classes (AA, JS, LM, DC, LRMAM, AA2, RW, and MR) that feature only 1 McDonald's All-American (the other one was Jordan). However, they are the better coached than any other team in the country. As a result, they have turned out to be better players than their more highly recruited counterparts from teams such as Arizona. And what is exciting is that these guys still have a lot of room for growth.

MR still needs to work on improving his shooting percentage. JS needs to work on his defense. DC needs to work on his passing (in terms of feeding the post and breaking down zone defense).  AA2, LM and RW all have a long way to go in terms of handling the ball in the paint and working on their post moves. And Luc still is a work in progress. Yet, as they are working on their individual games over the last two years, they have been working on getting better as a team and staying unselfish and positive in the process. And they are feeding off their team leader All-American candidate Arron Afflalo who is leading by example. Here is Dohn's article on how AA shut down Arizona's Marcus Williams with his defense:
So with Mbah a Moute on the bench, UCLA coach Ben Howland went to his best offensive player, Arron Afflalo, and asked him to again be his best defensive player.

Afflalo responded in a big way, not only scoring a game-high 22 points, but frustrating Arizona's Marcus Williams into his second-worst shooting performance of the season.

"I thought it was critical we put our best on-ball defender on (Williams)," Howland said.

Williams, who went 4 of 12 from the field, finished with 11points in 40 minutes, well below his 18.5-point average. Williams' only worse performance was an 0-for-5 outing against Louisville.

"I like taking that challenge and seeing if I can hold him down," Afflalo said. "It's something I've been doing since I've been here. My freshman year, I wanted to earn minutes, and that was my way of earning minutes. It stuck with me, and now I take a lot of pride in it."

The 6-foot-7 Williams was unable to use his length to get open shots against the 6-5 Afflalo, and the rest of Arizona's offense sputtered in trying to make up for Williams' struggles.

"It does a lot for us," UCLA guard Darren Collison said. "When your best player is not really scoring and not really making good plays because he has a great defender on him, it just disrupts the whole team, and I think that's what happened with Arizona. Once they stopped going to Marcus, it didn't look like they had too many options after that."
We will need a lot more of that from AA and his teammates to keep the magic road going.

We still have a long way to go. These guys have a brutal road trip this weekend, facing off against two very good Bay Area teams.  Once again, they will need to rely on their focus and commitment to team-defense if they want to pull out at least a split in this road trip.