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Ben Ball Game Day Roundup

Game day is here and there is a lot of chatter about whether Mata can continue to play at the same level he has been playing at since the West Virginia came. Pucin reports in the LAT:

It was Donny Daniels, a UCLA assistant coach, who first encouraged Lorenzo Mata to develop a left-handed hook, a shot of fundamental beauty and indefensible reliability.

"Coach Danny, when I first came here, he thought I had a tremendous left hand," Mata said this week. "He said I should start using it more. Now I have been using it more, and so far it's difficult to stop."

Since sitting out the second half of a 70-65 loss to West Virginia four games ago, the 6-foot-10 center has made 17 of 21 shots (81%) and averaged 10.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and nearly two blocked shots a game. And more than that, he has played with confidence, stepping forward to grab passes in traffic and make plays.

His is the kind of energy the second-ranked Bruins (25-3 overall, 14-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) need as they begin their final conference trip of the year against No. 13 Washington State (23-5, 12-4) in Pullman.
In addition to getting useful instructions from Coach Daniels, Mata is also getting encouragement from Ryan Hollins, the former Bruin big who greatly benefited from Coach Howland’s program:
It was late Monday, but the phone rang, and Lorenzo Mata answered it. On the other end was Ryan Hollins, the same guy who, a year ago, went from playing 14, 16, 19 minutes a game to a primary role as UCLA advanced to the NCAA championship game, taking down Belmont and Alabama, Gonzaga, Memphis and LSU along the way.

Hollins scored, defended and rebounded. He also led. And Hollins, in town that night with the Charlotte Bobcats, told Mata he could do the same things.

"He hit me up after the game," Mata said of Hollins. "He was telling me that I can even do better than him."
Well to this Mata has made invaluable contributions on the defensive end and the all important department of hustle and tenacity that always energize his team-mates. However his recent developments in offense has his team-mates like AA excited about the stretch run:
"He's been playing with a lot of confidence lately, making left-handed jump hooks and right-handed jump hooks, of course he's been improving his free-throw percentage," Afflalo said of Mata, who has hit 21 of his past 28 shots (75 percent) over the past eight games.

"Once we get a consistent inside-outside presence, that's going to take our team to another level," Afflalo said. "That makes it a lot easier for me, personally, a lot easier for Darren and Josh and gives Luc a little more space to operate down there.

"We need that out of him, because he's one of our bigger bodies. He's a great shot blocker so when he's confident and he does everything else, along with rebounding and blocking shots."
Bruins are going to need all that and some more from Mata and rest of the Bruin bigs to get the job done tonight. BBR has the preview of tonight’s game up:
Washington State still plays the tough brand of man-to-man defense and ball-control offense the elder-Bennett brought to Pullman.

The one primary difference is the younger (Tony) Bennett gives his players a bit more free rein in shooting earlier in the clock if a quality shot is available. The Cougars are averaging 65.1 points a game on 47.1% shooting (4th, Pac-10)and 37.6% from beyond the arc (4th, Pac-10).

The Cougars lead the conference in scoring defense allowing a stingy 57.9 points a game on 38.3% field goal shooting (1st, Pac-10) as well as just 32.6% on three-pointers (2nd, Pac-10).

Washington State is a distant 8th place in rebounding at 30.1 rebounds a game, but it is by design. The Cougars send three, sometimes four, defenders back on their own shot-attempts in order to stop an opponent's transition game.

The Cougars take extremely good care of the ball. They lead the league in least turnovers a game 9.0 and hold a conference leading 1.57 assist-to-turnover ratio - a ratio better than many collegiate point-guards in the nation.

UCLA has been living off baskets off transition this season, and they will be tough to come by on Thursday against Washington State.
That means Bruins will have to be patient during their half court sets, keep their poise and cool in a very difficult environment. So if Mata and Luc can provide the Bruins with some decent production inside, it will open up lot of maneuvering room for Bruin guards looking to operate both outside, while looking to slice to the rim inside. This is going to be a fun game to watch in terms of how Coach Howland and Bennett go at it in terms of in-game strategery. As usual if the Bruins can play 40 mins of Ben Ball, I think good things are in store for UCLA.