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Reset: Refocus and Readjust

The writers from the local traditional media outlets are out there like Pavlov's dogs writing up articles on how the Bruins need to do some soul searching. These articles would be credible if they were coming from sources who have been following our guys on a day-to-day basis the entire season. After basically ignoring UCLA basketball the whole season when our Ben Ball warriors were going through the pre-season and conference methodically wrapping up a conference title, putting together one of the most impressive tourney resumes in the nation, these jackals are out there wondering about the psyche of our basketball team. Whatever.

Obviously, the Cal game was a disaster. And that performance is troubling considering it came on the heels of the lackluster performance against Washington, when the team showed absolutely no fire and passion, until making their run in the second half (which is what happened against Cal, West Virginia and Oregon earlier in the season). I have been concerned about the troubling trend of us getting off to slow starts the entire season. And it has come back to bite us more than once.

I did want to take the time to talk about four of our big stars: AA, DC, Shipp, and Luc. Here are some thoughts on these four (and I love all of them) as we ponder how our entire team needs to refocus and readjust for the stretch run.

AA: Obviously all the so-called basketball experts and pundits are wondering about AA's dreadful game against Cal. Yes, it was the worst game AA has had as a Bruin. But I have to laugh at the assclowns who came on here (and sent me email) questioning whether AA is a clutch player. These ungrateful SOBs have already forgotten what AA did at the Galen Center this season. They have already forgotten what AA did against Cal last season (when a regular season Pac-10 championship was on the line). And they have forgotten how it was AA who willed UCLA to a win over Alabama during the second round of last year's tourney, a game which was just as difficult and hard fought as our game against Gonzaga. Most of all, these ungrateful b!tches, based upon just two games, have decided to forget the contributions this kid has made in restoring UCLA's status as one of the elite basketball programs in the nation. Like I said before, I don't want bandwagon jumping losers like these asshats who have no sense of big picture on BN. There are plenty of places around the internets where they can "vent" and come across as idiotic sports fans looking for instant gratification.

Now, AA is not perfect. He has flaws. And I am sure he will be the first person to admit it. Jeremy over at BHS had a great post yesterday summing up his feelings following Cal's game. Jeremy, like many of us here, believes the Bruins will find a way to rebound, quoting these revealing words from AA:

"If I'm going to feel pain I want it to hurt because if it hurts I'm going to bounce back from it stronger than ever," he said. "I'm not going to run from it. I know I had a terrible game tonight. I know our team lost tonight. I'm going to use that for something."
Now one thing I hope AA doesn't do is put too much pressure on himself emotionally. I do think AA gets too emotionally caught up in the responsibilities he feels he owes to the team. I think he feels the pressure of the leadership because there are no seniors in this team. And he carries that responsibility like a champion. But I also think he just needs to relax a bit in terms of what he thinks he owes to the Bruin Nation. At this point in time, he should feel no pressure. As we have mentioned before repeatedly, no matter what happens from hereon out, he is a Champion in our book, and he needs to play like he has nothing to lose when Bruins tip off in the Big Dance.

DC: While everyone was focusing on AA's performance from Thursday, not a lot of people in the traditional media talked about DC's game again. Luckily for us, BBR had these poignant observations on the Cal game:
On the other hand, Afflalo's teammates, most notably Darren Collison, didn't make much effort to get him the ball.   Although Afflalo was closely guarded and was shadowed on the wing by the Cal big men off screens, as a point-guard, Collison should have tried to make plays to get the team's best scorer into the flow of the offense, perhaps by driving the lane and kicking out to Afflalo who was wide open during such chances all game.

Since his 17 point 15 assist performance against Arizona which after he received singing praises and whispers of an NBA future, Collison has shot just 16 of 56 for 28.6% in his last five games.  More telling, Collison has taken 31 shots, making just 7, in UCLA's two last losses; while Afflalo, the 'shooting' guard on the team has taken just 21 shots.

Collison also finished the Cal game with 7 turnovers.
I am going to add a few more thoughts to this.

I am still wondering, what happened during that last shot? Why did DC jack up a desperate 3 pointer with 3 seconds to go and the game tied? You'd think with the game tied and so much time left on the clock, DC would look to drive inside, look to draw a foul, or pick the other option to kick it outside for a better looking, shorter range open jump shot.

It wouldn't be a big deal if that was an isolated incident. As BBR implied above, this has been happening since the Arizona game at Tucson, after which we started hearing and reading about some of the ludicrous NBA hype around DC both in the traditional media and among fans in the non-traditional outlets.

DC also needs to reflect on his game and think about what made him appear as the perfect replacement for JF up to the Arizona game. He needs to think about his team-mates first and not get caught up in the hype. He also needs to drive (and determine) the pace of the game from the outset (in a very smart way). Too often this season DC has come out of the gates tentative, as if he has been trying to see how the other team is forcing the tempo. As a result, a lot of times during first half our offense is tentative. Once DC seems to adjust, the offense seems to click as it usually does at the outset of the second halves of our games. They need to figure this issue out. Interestingly, in the second game against Cal (at Pauley), the Bruins fell down early in the first half, and it was Russell Westbrook who came in forced the issue, attacked and attacked, and change the entire tone of the game. I hope during the tourney Coach Howland is not afraid to go to Westbrook early and often if one of his guards is not playing up to their potential.

Shipp: That brings me to Shipp. Yeah, Shipp had a decent offensive performance against Cal in the first half and kept us in the game. However, he was also responsible for two key defensive lapses during the last minutes of regulation, allowing the Bears to tie the game. He got schooled by two different Cal defenders in the last minute of the game, when he basically took time off playing Ben Ball defense. I think this is where the team misses an unselfish, senior leader like Ced, who was more than willing to put all his energy into playing lockdown defense, while taking opportune shots on offense. Shipp needs to grow up, and he still has a ways to go. His careless shots on offense and careless defense have played a part in all of our losses. And if he doesn't get his head in the game for the entire 40 minutes, it will cost us again in the tourney. Actually, his 3 point makes against Cal now have me a little nervous because he may be heading into the Big Dance thinking he is Reggie Miller or something.

Luc: As for Luc, I don't buy the BS that he has dramatically regressed from last season. That is just nonsense if you look at his overall numbers because they are down only very slightly. What I think is happening is, because of the all the hype Luc got following his phenomenal freshmen season, he is now better scouted. Our opponents are preparing around his game. So he also needs to readjust in terms of the kind of tenacity he brings to the team. His bread is buttered on the defensive front and around the glass. If he focuses on hauling down rebounds, playing smart D, and then just picking his spots on offense and aggressively taking advantage of it, he is going to be all right. And a player like him has no excuse for the atrocious performance from the FT line he showed against Cal. He has got to do better than that.

The same template applies for rest of this team. This team needs to understand that they made their memorable run last year not because we had a stockpile of athletic freaks ala North Carolina and Florida. We made our run because we played a true team-game and took pride in the way we played defense. That is what restored our school's name in the world of college basketball and got it to where we were prior to the Washington game.

Obviously, the sky is not falling. There is a lot of time to readjust and focus. A basketball season can be very fickle. A team can lose its momentum in a matter of days, but it can also get it back in a matter of days. All the Bruins need to do is to look within themselves, and think about how they got to where they found themselves prior to the Washington game. If they can refocus and regroup and then just key on the next game, they are going to be all right. And if they get the momentum back, they need to grab a hold of it, stick with each other, believe in each other, and not worry about it anything else.

We will be with them every step of the way.