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Humpday Ben Ball Roundup

LA area's UCLA beat writers decided to actually do some reporting on the number 2 basketball team in America last night. Coach Howland had his weekly press conference yesterday and we have some news. As Dohn scooped last night Luc's status is improving but the team is still not sure about his availability for Thursday night. Here is more on Luc's status from the OC Register:

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute did not practice Tuesday when No.3 UCLA resumed practice after its victory over No.11 Arizona.

But there is a chance the sprained right knee that kept the 6-foot-8 forward on the bench against the Wildcats will be healed sufficiently so he can play Thursday at Cal in a Pac-10 game.

"There's not much pain right now," he said. "Hopefully, it won't bother me as much, so I'll be able to play. It's just an ache, mostly when I try to stretch my knee. I feel confident I'm going to try to play. I want to play. My knee feels real good right now. It depends on the trainer and the doctor, what they say, but I feel pretty good right now."

Coach Ben Howland said that the Bruins would proceed carefully as they did two weeks ago when small forward Josh Shipp missed one game because of a strained right hamstring. One game, obviously, would be better than coming back too quickly and missing 5-10.

The Bruins are hoping that he will be able to practice today. If Mbah a Moute is unable to play, Alfred Aboya will start a second consecutive game at power forward. The sophomore had 11 rebounds (six on the offensive end) and scored six points in his start against Arizona, including a pair of free throws with 17 seconds remaining that put the Bruins up, 72-67.
That sounds about right. As important as Thursday night's game is there is absolutely no need to rush Luc back.  We have not gone passed the halfway mark of the Pac-10 regular season. And there are additional games in the conference and NCAA tourneys. So it makes sense for Howland and co. to be judicious about when to bring back Luc. BTW the Trojan Times discovers AA2 had a great game against Zona in absence of Luc. Whatever.

With or without Luc UCLA will once again try to come out and start fast. It hasn't happened for them on the road this season. They have had good starts in some big games in Hawaii and in marquee games at Pauley (Michigan, Washington, and Arizona). However, they have been plagued with sluggish starts throughout the season. Dohn has a report on it and I have to say I didn't like Shipp's comments (or should I say excuses) about this:
"We're scouted so well because everybody wants to beat us because we're ranked so high right now," Bruins wing Josh Shipp said. "It's hard for teams to maintain that intensity the whole game, and that's when our preparation and execution comes into play. We say we want to start off fast every game, but I don't know what it is.

"We haven't figured it out yet. I wish there was one simple answer. We'll figure it out, though, and when we do, it's going to be scary."

UCLA has outscored teams by four points in the first half, and by 49 points in the second half.
Sorry Josh. I just don't buy that. There is no excuse for coming out lackadasical on defense. I think there is no excuse for forcing the issue on offense (taking ill advised jump shots out of the flow of team game) and no excuse for letting other team be more aggressive against our defense. That is not Ben Ball.

Luckily for us it's Arron who is the unquestioned leader of this team. And thankfully he is not making any excuses:
Junior guard Arron Afflalo said the Bruins' status as one of the top teams in the nation is not the whole cause.

"We have to come out focused," Afflalo said. "We're always well-prepared. We know what to expect. So it's up to us to come out there and play at your highest level and execute offensively and defensively.

"It's solely on us to go out there and play hard. It's tough. It's an easy thing to say that you're going to go out there and play hard, but your body has to be physically ready, and you have to be mentally ready to go out there and do it."
And that's exactly it. Look I love Shipp's game. He can make things look effortless. In a weird way he reminds of J. R. Henderson. I remember sometimes watching Henderson wondering what exactly was he doing on the court because he didn't putting any effort. Then at the end of the game you'd see J.R. filling up the box score or making crucial FTs to seal the game. He was awesome. But that said I just think Shipp can be little more intense on defense like AA at the start of the game. Again perhaps he is hampered by his injury to his hamstring. But if he is not at full strength sure hope Coach Howland doesn't delay in inserting Westbrook or Roll, who at least this point of time seem to be playing more intense defense.

Anyways those are correctable issues which the team can work on. After all remember how we were riding on Ryan Hollins all season until he played lights out in his last 10 games. Shipp is way ahead of Hollins. And once he is completely healthy hopefully he will turn out to be more effective on defense, aggressively attacking opposing team's offense.

The whole team will need to be in attacking mode on defense this Thursday night. That's how they won down the stretch last night (our opponents were not having bad shooting nights by accident) and that's how it will happen this year.