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Ben Ball Musings: No Need To Worry

I know we have some major football news to talk about. But I need this to get off my chest before officially moving on from last night's game.

So for the first time in 25 games we lost a game at Pauley. As I said last night it hurt like hell but it is certainly not the end of the world.

Bruins lost to a very talented and well coached Texas team in (their) last possession shot, but it was a game they had a chance to wrap it up after taking control in the second half. DC relaxed a bit when Augustin launched and connected on his late 3 point shot, and there was the traveling call on Augustin (watch the tape) the Pac-10 umpire (apparently he was the number 1 rated ref in the Pac!) in their last shot. Oh well. They won. Kudos to them.

But where does that leave us? Well we have few correctable issues to deal with and I am more that confident Coach Howland will work through them.

In terms of the zone defense, no question we are having problems with it right now? What is the root of this problem? Well when Love got here we all thought our historical problem with zone (I am talking recent history) was coming to end now that we have a big guy inside who would be able to neutralize the issue by carrying the scoring load inside. But Love is not getting any touches.  And last night Marques singled out Shipp in one instance in which Love had clearly put himself in position under the rim, but Josh failed to get it to him. I'd imagine coaches will make sure Josh and rest of his team-mates will go over that specific tape and other instances during the game, when Love was getting his position but failing to get the rock.

I think this problem is more than correctable. BruinRod offered up some pretty good thoughts:

The problem has not been Love's ability to get position and get open down low, but our guards' ability to get in a position where making an entry pass is possible.

Usually, against a 2-3 zone all it takes is an extra pass to the corner to get a good angle to feed the post, rather than making the pass from the wing where there may be 3 defenders between the passer and the big man.  The problem so far is that our offense seems content at times to swing the ball around the top of the key side to side hoping to catch the defense out of position when the ball reverses, allowing the wings to possibly penetrate, instead of going to the corner where Love has usually backed his man down.

It seemed last night that Love wasn't having too much difficulty getting position, but he was almost doing too good of a job, pushing his man down so far under the basket that it made an entry pass from the wing even longer, and some of our wings (I'm looking at you, Shipp) even more reluctant to chance a pass.  An extra look to the corner could fix that.

Another suggestion would be to run something similar to the GW game.  Granted, GW had inferior talent and was running a halfcourt trap for part of the game rather than a 2-3, but some of my favorite offensive possessions of the last couple years came from it.  I liked the idea of moving Love out to the wing occasionally (obviously not all the time) and then trying to hit Westbrook cutting to the free throw line.  Once he was able to get the ball in the middle, it was game over.  At the very least, couldn't we have Love flash to the high post rather than Luc?  I know Luc is supposed to be a 3, but I know I'd feel much more comfortable with Love taking those J's.  Plus when he's having a hard time getting the ball in the post, it's a way to get him some easy touches, and again take advantage of his passing ability.
I think those are pretty good ideas. I also think we should think about using Luc more aggressively right off the bat when we see the zone.  We started doing this out of the gate in the second half. Perhaps we should be ready do it right away next time opponent throw up zone D against us.

Luc has the ability to attack the basket. He can penetrate with his dribble drive and get to the rack. And while others are obsessing with Love taking up the paint, he can cut through the paint with his ability. We know Russell has the ability to glide through traffic. And when DC is fully healthy he can do the same. So when we see the zone next time, we can't attack it passively by passing around the ball and settling for jumpers at the end. We need to attack it and attack it with purpose both through drives and (unforced) smart bombs from outside that come within the flow of our attack.

Tracy Pierson explained this whole ground/air assault of zone D in his post game wrap at Bruin Report Online:
UCLA's offensive attack against a zone, too, is to rotate the ball pretty casually around on the outside to look for a clear open shot, but then if it doesn't come, with about ten seconds left on the shot clock, for someone to penetrate to the top of the key to try to create something. It was effective against some of UCLA's weaker non-conference opponents this year, but not against Texas.

The thing is, UCLA now has the weapons to have that more multi-dimensional attack against a zone. Kevin Love touched the ball in the post twice in the first half, which is the fault of UCLA's perimeter players as well as Love, who didn't do much to get himself open in the zone. That, first, has to be UCLA's priority. Probably the best thing to do with Love against a zone is have him flash to the high post. Defenses would have to honor him there since he can hit that shot and, being such a great passer, he'd be able to find teammates for easy buckets.

Secondly, UCLA has a gold mine against the zone in Mbah a Moute, which they've never tapped. Mbah a Moute can't shoot against a zone, but he certainly has a gift for being able to take one- or two-dribble drives, jump stop and then get to the rim right through a zone. He did it in the second half very effectively. Mbah a Moute, too, is a very effective option flashing to the high post, being a very good passer, too. If Mbah a Moute catches the ball at the free-throw line the defense will have to collapse on him, getting Love some space down low. Again, when Mbah a Moute continues to realize what makes him special, his ability around the basket, and doesn't try to be a perimeter player, he's a huge factor for UCLA's zone offense, and its offense in general.

Then, you have Westbrook and Collison, who are good at finding seams in the zone.

What it comes down to is: This edition of the Bruins has to attack the zone equally as much on the ground as through the air. It has to start at the beginning of the shot clock trying to get inside against a zone and get an easy basket, and perhaps look to kick out as a second option. It's interesting to contemplate just how much really good work UCLA gets against a zone in practice. Howland doesn't use a zone, so when they try to simulate it against their own offense in practice, just how formidable can it be? It's probably, really, the biggest downside to never using a zone - not being able to work against a good one in practice.

UCLA in the second half, though, showed why it has the potential to be the best team in the country. Texas shot 53% in the first half, and 40% in the second. It limited the high-scoring Texas offense to just 3 points for the first 8 minutes of the second half, with UCLA going on a 16-3 run and taking a 41-40 lead. UCLA was able to do this with Collison still not himself, and two other players missing from what will be their 8-man rotation - Roll and James Keefe.
BRO had removed the subscription firewall to the article throughout the day, and I'd highly encourage you to read it (besides I think subscribing to BRO where for this kinds of always makes it worth it, at least for a junkie like me).

Now let's get back to Love again. The kid didn't get only 6 touches last night. I believe he had 4 against GW. He did look frustrated. But he needs to grow through this. In more than one occasion I saw defensive lapses from him when Connor or other Texas big got the better of him. There is no reason to hang his head low over this. It happens to the best of them. He just needs to follow through on what the coaches are telling him. And I think the coaches will also find a way to get him more involved in the offense not just by getting him touches from inside, but perhaps moving him out a bit, and getting him midrange shots which he has the ability to hit.

Wrt to Shipp let me share this bit with all of you. During the half way point of the second half Shipp was about to launch a 3 and my face contorted. And then the shot goes in and I guess I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Mrs. N at that point asked, "Josh really drives you crazy, doesn't he?" Well yeah I guess. I still don't know how to reconcile my emotions on kid. I love the kid. I love the effortless qualities on his game. His ability to drive to the hoop, his smooth jumpers, wrecking havoc on D when he is totally focused, and then there are those times I just can't come up with any explanations on what is going on with him. Marques also called out Shipp last night as being the `weak link' on Bruin defense, as Texas guards including Mason was blowing by him at times. But at the same time Josh made 2 huge clutch treys in second half (even though he missed a number of others including few shots that to me looked forced and out of the flow of our offense). I think this is really a mental thing with Josh. I think he has the ability to be a great college player before he is done. However, to get to that point he needs to come with the same focus and intensity in every game, which he showed during the tourney run last year, when he lit up Kansas and played with fire against the Gators.

That goes to the whole point of we need one of our guys to be that stopper, who will never miss a beat in terms of locking down his man on D, and always bring his A(A) game while playing Ben Ball defense. Whoever that person is will emerge as the rightful heir of AA in this Ben Ball team. If Josh can "bring" it every game, he can feel that role, but he needs to bring it on the court. I think Luc has a chance to be that person. He seems to have the natural talent to be that lock down guy on D, and then be the fire starter on offense, specially if the other team is trying to sag us with zone on the other end.

As for Roll's game, guys lay off him. The kid is coming back from a pretty painful injury. And it is incredibly unreasonable to expect him to hit the ground running against perhaps the fastest collection of athletes among top line college hoops program. It will take him some.  And that goes for DC as well. I thought DC had a decent game. But its clear he still has some conditioning to get in. He will get better as the season gets along.

All in all, I again was encouraged by how we fought back in the second half just like a prototypical Ben Howland coached team. This time the bounces didn't go in our way. And I have no problem with that. However, I do hope our players listen to our coaches (and I have no doubt there are harping on lot of these issues and then some) in the coming days as they work on getting better as a team.

One last note, and this is wrt to what the Longhorns did at the end. Look, I had no problem with them jumping from their bench after "upsetting" the no. 1 team in the nation. I had no problem with them celebrating on the center court. However, I do have to tell you it really bothered me the gestures they were hurling towards the Den. And apparently a number of them walked off the court without shaking hands with our team. That is just not cool. You know how the karma things work out at the  end. I don't think our guys will forget those post game moments, should we meet them again down the line.

Anyway, in every memorable UCLA basketball season I have had a chance to obsess over from start to finish in my recent fandom of UCLA hoops (94-95, 05-06, and 06-07) there have always been jarring losses (@ Oregon (94-94), Cal (94-95), @ Southern Cal (05-06), Cal at Pac-10 tourney (06-07)) that woke up the entire team and led them to do a little bit of reflecting, and use that to work on getting better as a team. I am hoping same deal with play out this time around.

Given who we have in charge of our program I see absolute no reason to worry.