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The Polishing Process

Let's start with a roundup on last night's tough win. I think everyone is wondering about the large deficits we have found ourselves in the first halves of last two games. Here is Coach Howland's take on the early deficits:

UCLA spent the week preparing to face a zone, but the Wildcats (3-5) only played it for one possession. Howland  attributed the Bruins' deficit to sloppy execution on offense and a willingness to settle for quick shots rather than work hard.

"We were up 14-11 (against Texas) and then we became a primary shooting team against a zone and they went on a huge run," Howland said. "Today, I thought we really, really got exposed by some of their slips. They were game-planning to slip some of their big (guys)."

The shortcomings allowed Davidson, which also has lost to No. 6 Duke and No. 1 North Carolina, to build the big lead. If the Wildcats weren't scoring easily inside, they were moving the ball well on the perimeter to create open shots as UCLA's defense was victimized by over-playing the ball-handler.

"They did a great job of setting good screens, very physical screens," Howland said. "They created separation, hurt us in transition. Your offense and defense work together.

"I thought a couple times we took some quick, bad shots offensively and they turned into fastbreaks, where they're penetrating down the middle of the floor and kicking out to open shooters for 3s."
There were two guys who played the roll of fire starters yesterday. Once again it was Luc who provided the energy and hustle on offense, while Russell stepped up to do this AA imitation in the second half, helping Bruins to pull away. Davidson coach McKillip provided his three factors resulting in last night's Bruin victory:
McKillop counted three key statistics that told him the story. "They doubled us up on rebounding," McKillop said of the Bruins' 37-18 advantage. "They beat us 20-0 on second-chance points. And they had a 21-1 free-throw advantage [in the first half]. Those things all equate with toughness."

Also earning praise from both McKillop and Howland was UCLA's sophomore guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was the primary defender on sophomore Stephen Curry, who was averaging 26 points a game. Westbrook held him to 15 on six-for-19 shooting. Westbrook also finished with 14 points, six assists and three rebounds.

It was amped-up defense by everybody in the second half that kept the Bruins in a quick tempo. The Wildcats shot 51.9% from the field in the first half and only 40.7% in the second. All five Bruins starters scored in double figures and Love had his fifth double-double of the season (12 points, 12 rebounds).
Love had a slow start on defense. But the kid didn't sulk and came back strong in the second half. I think as we have few more games he will adjust to the attention he is getting from the opponents, and find a way to make the opposing team pay by helping to set up his team-mates.

As for stepping up, Russell reminded us of AA. Coach Howland noticed his lock down defense that reminded us of one of our original Ben Ball warriors:
"'I thought Russell did a terrific job, an unbelievable job," Howland said.

"He's a tough kid and he's going to make some tough shots," Westbrook said of Curry, who is a candidate to win the John R. Wooden Award and is on the Naismith Trophy watch list. "My coaches prepared me well to guard him, just trailing him without separation and keeping pressure on."

Curry had come in averaging 26 points per game and scored 24 in a loss to No. 1 North Carolina and 20 in a loss to No. 7 Duke. But he was held to a season-low 15 points on what was his worst shooting day of the season, hitting only 6 of 19 shots (31.6 percent).

"Westbrook did a great job trying to fight through screens. I guess our screeners couldn't get a body on him," Curry said. "He contested a lot of shots and got my balance and footwork off. He did a great job chasing me all game and making it tough for me to get easy looks."
I think after first few games a picture is emerging in terms of who can play the lock down Ben Ball defensive superstar. And right now Russell with his speed, athleticism, and that extra step seems like the most natural candidate. Remember it was also him who played a huge part in generating that second half rally against Michigan State. He just needs to get more aggressive (in terms of taking leadership) while playing within the flow of our defense. I am sure Coach Howland can see it and it will translate into more mins in the crunch time.

As for rest of our team, we have to be patient. From watching DC I get the sense that he was expecting to play like DC of old right out of the gate. He just needs to relax a little and get himself into the rhythm of Ben Ball action. It will take some time. And this goes for Michael Roll as well. I think after last two seasons and addition of Love, some UCLA fans were expecting dominating wins in every game and expected us to play like we did against Kansas in March, right out of the gate. But the reality is we have to work our way into that tournament form and Steve Dilbeck writes about that in his today's column in the Daily News:
"This was a good game for us to grow and to improve today," Howland said.

The Bruins proved tough, if still susceptible. Two Final Four runs have left them almost impervious to pressure.

They are just as eager to achieve greatness as any of their followers, but growth is part of the process.

And for all their experience, they are still growing, and that's OK, too.
Yeap. What we need to do is enjoy this process of our warriors improving through the season.

Lastly, I want to note that I do not appreciate is some of the chicken little comments I saw in the game thread early last night, when some newbies were jumping over our team. We will not tolerate that kind nonsense on BN. We have been with Coach Howland and his warriors through thick and thin over the years. We have no problem with discussing strategies, expressing frustrations with how the game is going, but newbies who are posting on BN need to know, different rules are at play when we discuss, write and comment on our Ben Ball warriors. They get deference and they get breathing room based on their track record and based on the fact they are being led by one of the best coaches in the game with a proven track record. Same goes in baseball too.  And we will take the same mentality in football, when we have  a coach we can trust in take over the program. And once again neither DeWayne Walker nor Norm Chow will get the same breathing room or support we have given Coach Howland or Savage from the very beginning.

Anyway, all in all a good win for our warriors. Time for them to focus on their finals and come out strong for Idaho State. We still have three games to work out our kinks (including a challenging road trip at Ann Arbor) before we begin our Pac-10 season. I have no doubt our team under Coach Howland's guidance will continue to chip away. And we intent to enjoy every moment of this polishing process like we have in last four years.