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Sunday Thoughts on Ben Ball

So the Ben Ball warriors are now coming off their first loss in months. Months. However, we are still in pretty solid shape.  We are 14-1 and still at the top of our conference at 3-1, because of our chief rival's not so surprising loss to a very good Cougars team. We will probably drop 3-4 spots in this week's poll. BFD. As I said last night, we shouldn't sweat last night's loss too much. We were taking on a team which is pretty good and was on fire playing in front a jacked up crowd, hungry for an upset against UCLA. It happens. The team remains on track to achieve its goals of winning the Pac-10 regular season and conference titles. As I laid out in my pre-season breakdown, this was a toss-up game. I wasn't all that surprised that it didn't go our way. We still have extremely tough road trips left at Arizona, Stanford, California, Washington and now Washington State. If we can win 3 of those games, win out the rest of our road games, and hold serve at Pauley, we are going to be all right.

I think I am not the only one in thinking a loss was perhaps just what this team needed. We were getting a little too used to coming out a little sluggish and tentative before making the (Coach Howland made) adjustments in the second half. We made the adjustments yesterday, but it was too little too late, and wasn't enough to cut down on the mental errors taking place down the stretch. It happens. It happened last year against Washington, West Virginia, and Cal at home. Again, remember, the goal is not to peak in January, but to get better through the season, and hit our stride down the stretch. Coach Howland will get it done.

The Ben Ball warriors, despite being out of sync and finding themselves on the wrong side of many bad calls, and not playing up to their own standard Ben Ball defense (in the first half), almost pulled out a gutsy win.

Obviously, things are going to be all right under Coach Howland. But I think there are some points/issues that are worthy of revisiting from Saturday afternoon's game, our first loss in months. First, some good stuff (yes, there were few) from yesterday.

Russell Westbrook is an ICEMAN (well, at least he was last night). Guess there is no doubt who was the MVP for the Bruins yesterday afternoon. It was Westbrook's aggressiveness, both on offense and defense, that kept the Bruins in game. The kid is fearless. He attacks, attacks and attacks some more. And he will only get better. I really hope Coach Howland gives this kid more and more time in the coming weeks. He was awesome. Just awesome on Saturday. And now we know why Coach Howland didn't waste any time in offering him as soon as Jordan announced he was gone.

Now, I understand the argument why he should have been in that final play, since he was attacking the basketball all afternoon from both inside and outside. However, I can also understand why Coach Howland opted to go with his veterans in crunch time. Howland is always set in his rotation. Westbrook, until yesterday, hadn't found himself in a clutch, pressure situation on the road. He will get his time eventually if he keeps producing like he did yesterday. He will earn those minutes in Howland's eyes.

Let's mention some of the other guys who had a great game.

Roll scored 4 points in 14 minutes of action. However, I think he had a solid game. Especially during first half. He played within the team scheme, yet he was aggressive. He was aggressive on defense (unlike Shipp and Afflalo who uncharacteristically (especially AA) were tentative on defense). I can see why Howland had him in during the last play. He did, after all, make a number of clutch threes against both Washington teams at Pauley.

Our starting bigs had bad games (more on them below). However, I actually thought AA2 played pretty well. The kid had 8 pts, 6 boards in just 17 minutes of action. His offensive skills still need a lot of improvement. Just like our other big guys, he needs to get much better in handling the ball in the paint (again, more on this point below). But on the defensive side, he was doing all right (most of the night). He does go out of position on D at times, but his effort was there, and he will get it right. He was keeping us alive on the offensive side with all those offensive boards (6 of them). His effort was huge. Too bad we weren't taking advantage of all the second/third chances we were getting from all those boards.

Oh, and I thought Keefe played all right. Yes, people need to get off James Keefe. He did okay during the limited action he got last night. In fact, I thought he played better than Mata. And I wish he got a little more time than Mata last night. He was defending pretty well, hauling in 4 rebounds (1 offensive) in just 5 minutes. He also had a steal. He was, in other word, active. I have seen some posts in the message boards (and one or two here) about how he has been somewhat of a disappointment. Those comments are just ridiculous and without any merit. If anything, I really hope Coach Howland plays him (and obviously Westbrook) a lot more in the coming weeks. Keefe, during limited action last night, held his own, especially on the defensive side of the court.

Now, on to the issues from Saturday.

Just a few days ago, we had a little discussion in an open game thread (or perhaps it was a post-game thread) when we talked about Don MacLean as a game announcer. Some people don't like him because he speaks in a monotone and doesn't sound uber excited ala Kris Johnson. But, I tell you what he is probably the best college basketball game analyst in the country. His observations are concise and on point. Case in point, his comments on Luc during the Washington State game a couple of weeks ago. During the Wazzu game, Donnie Mac commented on how Luc just needs to focus on what he does best which is rebounding, scoring on the inside, and playing that tenacious defense, while not worrying too much about shooting mid/long range jumpers. Donnie Mac was commenting that perhaps Luc heard too much of the talk about him being a pro prospect after his phenomenal freshman year, and has been listening too much of the talk about how deadly he will be as a pro player if he develops an outside game. Luc will definitely improve. But he needs to be mindful of what makes him so great and work from there. He needs to give it his all in every defensive and offensive possession, and let the other (fancy) parts of the game come within the scheme instead of forcing the issues.

And speaking of forcing the issues, we have to talk about AA and Shipp.

AA took 12 shots last night. 11 of them came from outside the arc. Granted, AA made a lot of clutch shots in the second half. However, when playing against a team against which the Bruins had size advantage, perhaps AA should have taken it to the rack a little more (especially in the first half when his shots weren't falling from outside) and draw some fouls. Sure, the refs were calling an awful game, with lot of bad calls on the UCLA, however, our guys could have been more aggressive driving the ball to the basket. Luckily, AA is such a competitive warrior that we don't have to worry about him. Just check out these comments in Dohn's writeup today:

"I never want to feel like this again in my entire career here," Afflalo said. "I truly thought this team couldn't be beat. Not from a negative standpoint, but the way we play, the type of heart we usually play with, the leadership we have on this team. I didn't think we could be beat.

"This is probably my worst loss ever."
Yeah, he is going to be all right. He is going to come out with fire in his eyes next game.

Josh is having a good year. He has been playing within the game a lot. But he does, at times, lose focus a bit and go for the flashy stuff. The lob to Mata is coming to mind during those final minutes. No need for that, Josh. No need for that. My main concern with Josh is how, at times, he forces things too much on offense, looking for shots (the 1 on 1 stuff) outside Howland's scheme, and he seems to, at times, to take time off playing defense. Shipp will be fine. He needs to bring Roll's aggressiveness on defense. He will get it done. Hopefully soon.

For the second consecutive game, DC got off to a bad start in first half. Actually, make that 3 out of 4 games. He was flustered by the Cougars defense too. DC just needs to settle down and not let the refs' calls bother him. He was getting torched by Brooks. No question about that. Brooks was just going around. To his credit, DC made some adjustments and had a better game in the second half. Let's hope he doesn't get into this habit of slow starts. Again, just like everyone else, if he just focuses on playing smart defense, and stays calm, he is going to be all right. One thing to consider. If DC is a little tired because of logging heavy minutes, perhaps cut down his minutes a bit with Westbrook. That could be a win/win for everyone.

Mata had a very unMata like game. He was tentative on both ends of the court. All of the Bruin bigs had mediocre offensive games against a team which has Marty Leunen as its only legit post threat. Our guys need to work on holding onto the ball when they get in the paint. A lot of them hold the ball down low too much (instead of around the shoulder level), giving opponents opportunities to hack away at it. I am sure this is something the coaches will be working on a lot. And I don't see Mata having back-to-back bad games when the Bruins get back into action next Saturday.

Now on to the last play. It was obviously horrible. Coach Howland took responsibility for it right away after the game. From Dohn:
Howland said he made the decision to go for a 3-pointer, mostly because starters Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Collison each had four fouls, so overtime was unappealing.

"The last play of the game was really my fault because I wanted to go for a win," Howland said. "I thought we would be able to penetrate and kick it back out for a three, and it wasn't there. We really were tentative. We did not get a good shot the last play of the game."
And people wonder why we have anointed Coach Howland to sainthood, while cursed out Dorrell as a coward and gutless leader. That is what we call a Coach taking responsibility and protecting his players. Something we don't see from the head coach of our other major sport.

Anyways, those were the issues from last night. Honestly, I am not all that hot and bothered about the FT shooting considering we were shooting over 70 percent in four games leading up to Oregon. The issues mentioned above are correctable over time. And I am sure our coaches know precisely what the problems are and will be working on them, not to mention getting the team in right mindset.

Now, I can't wrap this post up with mentioning Kevin Love. Uh wow. That's the first time I have seen this kid play in a game (have seen a lot of highlights). 41 points coming from all kinds of shots: driving to the hoop, fade away, mid range, long range, dunks, silky smooth on the FT line). And those passes. Are you kidding me? If any of you guys live in Oregon, just go watch him. Amazing. Watching Love's game instantly wiped away all the disappointment from Saturday's game.

Anyways, I am confident General Howland will get the guys in the right mindset in the next few days getting them ready for next Saturday. I am looking forward to our boys coming out next Saturday in a nice little LA gym filled with thousands of Bruin fans, and dishing out a nice little beat down to a bunch of assclowns, wannabe posers from South Central.