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Finding A Way ...

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Bruins are going to put last night’s game in their rear view mirror and head out for West Virginia early this am. But before we put last night’s game on our backburner, let’s revisit some key moments from a tough game and then reflect a little. As usual our warriors found a way to win against an upstart opponent, who did their best to pull out a hall mark win for their mediocre program. Dohn reports on how Bruins grinded out a big win to pull ahead of the Pac:

It was a grin-and-bear-it night for the Bruins, who didn't attack USC's 2-3 zone well, defended poorly and got a poor shooting performance from leading scorer Arron Afflalo (a season-worst 3 for 11).

The Bruins trailed 20-10 early as USC made nine of its first 11shots.

Despite cutting USC's lead to 30-29 at the half, the Trojans started the second half strong and went ahead 38-31.

"I thought (USC) did a good job of changing their man (defense) right back to a 2-3 zone," UCLA point guard Darren Collison said. "That threw our rhythm out a little bit.
Trojans played inspired defense against a group of Bruins who perhaps were a little too keyed up from a fired up crowd. Trojans came out on fire, but their surreal shooting tapered off (until the desperate last seconds) when the Bruins went down into their lock down mode.

Give all those Henry Bibby recruits – Young, Pruitt, and Stewart – lot of credit for putting on quiet a show in early going. They as they have done through most of this season carried the scoring burden, finding holes early in Bruin’s uncharacteristic sieve like defense. However, once the Bruins adjusted and tightened up their defense, the better team, the experienced team (not necessarily the older team) took over. They stayed calm and composed just like their steely head coach, and found a way to nail down yet another huge win. As for their counterparts here is Adande on how Trojans melted when it counted (yet again):
[T]he Trojans didn't make the plays when the pressure mounted. Gabe Pruitt lost control of the ball against a double-team, Collison stole it and passed ahead to Afflalo for a breakaway dunk that gave UCLA its first lead, with less than six minutes left. Later, Lodrick Stewart lost control of his emotions.

After Shipp grabbed two of his own missed shots and finally made a layup plus a foul, Stewart grabbed the ball and slammed it to the ground. He was called for a technical foul. It was a bad 'T' since Stewart was more frustrated by the play than the call. Still, Stewart should not have put the officials in that position. UCLA got two bonus points from the technical free throws, plus Shipp made his free throw to complete the three-point play. UCLA didn't surrender the lead.

"We're used to winning," Afflalo said.
Yeap. And as mentioned above it’s not like we are led by bunch of seniors. The three key juniors – AA, Shipp, Mata – were ice cold in the first half. Mata was missing FTs. Shipp seemed out of sync, while AA was missing shots (due to a great Trojan defense). Sure Shipp was involved in the key play during which a Trojan senior lost his cool, and AA had his thunder dunk, that put up the Bruins by 2, it was the floor leadership of DC (who overcame some wild plays reflecting the fact that he is only a sophomore) and defensive tenacity of Luc, that played a huge part in Bruin’s characteristic second half surge. And let’s not forget AA2. I think it’s obvious by now this kid is in the process of taking the next step. He has simply taken his game to a different level ever since he was asked to step up for Luc (when he missed the Arizona game). AA2 was a huge factor inside pulling down 6 boards (4 offensive) and chipping in win 9 points. In others words bunch of sophomores keyed a Bruin win, when their junior leaders were having tough times on offense. These kids are not only learning and growing as a team, in the process of doing so they are finding a way to win.

Oh and guess what Bruins were $ from the FT line during the waning (key) moments of the game:
The Bruins, ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in free-throw shooting percentage at 64.3, hit 18 of 20 free throws in the second half and 11 of 12 free throws in the final minute as USC was getting three-pointers from Dwight Lewis, Pruitt and Young to keep the pressure on the Bruins.
Obviously Bruins still have a long way to go to completely fulfill their potential as a team. But I gotta tell you I am loving this season. I am enjoying watching our kids grow up to be winners. The most satisfying thing about Coach Howland’s program is while his youngsters are developing as players, they are actually winning. None of them resort to that moral victory nonsense. None of them take satisfaction in coming close. They are just feeding off the energy of their upperclassmen (who just happen to be juniors) and creating their own legacy of winning.

Moreover, it’s a testament to their head coach how they stayed calm, composed and focused during the key moments of a big game (yet again). It’s not a conincidence that they are making stupid decisions causing their team a game. Their coach is not out there embarrassing himself a lunatic jackass, always screaming like a whining little baby outside the coach’s box. It certainly effects a team’s composure and confidence during crunch time. And, it couldn’t be more obvious last night at Pauley.

Lastly, time to put the all the hype wrt to gap closing aside. People who actually follow college basketball closely (not just going by what’s written by bunch of hyperventilating beat writers covering Heritage Hall) know Floyd’s program doesn’t have a strong foundation. It is no where close to what Coach Howland has in Westwood. Actually it’s almost as flimsy as what UCLA had under Lavin during those dark years prior to Howland.

Sure they have a decent team this year (like I said before it happens once in a blue moon). They may finish in the top 3 or 4 in the conference, get a good seed in the tourney, and could make it to the sweet 16, then again they could implode down the stretch and finish with 10-11 losses.

And yet, this will probably turn out to be the best Southern Cal basketball team for years to come. Chances are pretty good that if Pruitt and Young (again both Bibby recruits) continue to do well, they will be projected as reasonably high draft picks. And we all know how much they "love" going to class. And there is that 22 year old Gibson, who is not all that keen on going to school. They may not have Senora Ross around to get through school in the coming year. If two of those three guys leave early (keep in mind Lodrick Stewart is a senior), even with a head case like Mayo leading bunch of rag tags, they will be a huge question mark next season. Certainly not the mark of a stable program. Plus Timmeh is going by a recruiting strategy in which he is targeting name players with baggage, who are only being recruited by Bob Huggins of the world. He has a long way to go just to match the recruiting efforts of Bibby, let alone even be considered in the same league as Coach Howland. In other words there hasn’t really been any solid groundwork for a good, reputable program at Southern Cal, despite of the constant hype you read from the lap dogs in the traditional media and from the delusional fan base, who doesn’t know anything about the game. Despite all their hype their team still cannot win the big games.

Anyways, we will leave that score behind and move. Bruins have an interesting non conference game coming up this Saturday. We will talk about West Virginia and discuss what the Bruins need to do to keep finding ways to win.

GO BRUINS.