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A Step In A Positive Direction [But Don't Get Too Comfy]

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All week we have been talking about how the Ben Ball warriors desperately needed to come out strong in their first tourney game, regain their focus, and rediscover the momentum they were riding after the thrilling win at Pullman two weeks ago. Well tomorrow night certainly helped.

Bruins came out strong. Sure they didn’t go on an offensive blitzkrieg right out of the gate but they came out with a ferocious mindset on defense, which led to a nice, comforting, blow out win. Dohn leads of today’s reports on how the Bruins literally gutted out a calming win:

Center Lorenzo Mata checked into the game during a timeout, but as he neared UCLA's huddle, he detoured to the end of the bench and dipped his head into a magenta bag.

Out came Mata's lunch.

Less than three minutes later Mata returned to the court and scored on a dunk, providing a symbol for the type of grit and fortitude that has become UCLA basketball.

Weber State found out what it is like to be grounded like peanuts into a wooden floor, wilting under UCLA's stifling defense before looking up at the scoreboard and trying to figure out how the Bruins blew open a big game without many style points.

No. 2-seed UCLA's 70-42 pounding of 15th-seeded Weber State isn't necessarily the panacea the Bruins needed to recover from two straight losses, but Thursday's first-round win in the West region of the NCAA Tournament at Arco Arena did calm some nerves.
I had no idea Mata went Cade McNown on us. That will only add to Zo’s legend status on campus. Dohn has more on Mata’s heroics in a separate report, as does [sloppy] Diane.

Mata was not the only hero. Obviously one of the big stories from last night’s win was AA’s tourney opening performance. AA took his team leading 22 points and 8 rebound performance in stride:
"I don't want to say we're back after one game, but we did definitely take a step in a positive direction and that's what's most important," Afflalo said.

"This whole tournament is about surviving and advancing, and you advance and you have to be happy with that, but you can't rest on it or it will be short-lived."

The Bruins' large margin of victory wasn't a message to anyone, he said, "it's more of a message to ourself within our team on how we need to compete."

"This one is satisfying, the way we played, because you could tell the way we practiced all week that we would be ready tonight, and it's good to see that fulfilled."
Meanwhile Coach Howland had these comments in response to all the belly aching that was going on after AA’s one bad game in his three year illustrious career in Westwood:
"Yeah, he had a poor game in our last game," Howland said. "Everybody talked about it. We've already been through that.

"I expected him to play well. Obviously he did. I mean, he's had one poor game I can remember in three years. That's it. That's over.

"Arron Afflalo is first-team All-American, most valuable player in the Pac-10 Conference. That's a body of work there. That says it all, and that's voted on by others. That speaks volumes."

Howland, on a roll now, even had another prediction. One Indiana will no doubt be paying heed.

"He's a great player and a great competitor - and he'll play better on Saturday," Howland said.
We certainly hope so. One thing about Arron is that the kid can be streaky sometimes. He always feeds of positive energy and builds on it. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will build on last night’s performance and use that to come out even stronger on Saturday night.

I liked the contributions we got from our bench. That was a great sign. It was good to see Keefe getting in there and mixing it up, setting screens, getting key rebounds, hustling around the rim.

Everyone loved Roll’s 3s. However, I think it was the play right before the end of half really showed what kind of player Roll was. Towards the end of first half Roll received a 50 feet pass from DC, and within a mili second he got it over to AA through a touch pass for an easy lay in. It was an amazing play but was only made possible because Roll was thinking 2 steps ahead. That’s not the first time he made a play like. Just few weeks ago he made a similar play at Pauley, as when he was going an out of bounce, he spotted Westbrook (I think it was Westbrook) open around the 3 point last, and flicked a pass to him for an open 3. I think this is why coaches really like this kid. He is always thinking ahead, playing within our offense. I know he could be shooting a little higher from the 3 point range. I think that will come as he gets more shots. But from what I have seen from this kid in last two years, he is going to be a very good player (along with Keefe) before he leaves Westwood. Hopefully they can continue this level of play (as the quality of opponent gets better) through rest of the tourney.

I loved the intensity the team showed out of the gate last night. Unlike last few games this time our opponents were not getting easy looks, layups, and getting mauled everytime they tried to get near the basket. Kuwada has more on the intensity our team showed right from the tip-off:
"(It was) the intensity, which got us off to a better start," said point guard Darren Collison, who played 32 minutes and showed no ill effects from a sprained left ankle suffered during the week in practice.

"Anytime we don’t get off to a good start, obviously, it’s because we don’t have intensity on the ball and it starts with me. When we have slow starts, I can’t say it any more, it’s because we’re not intense enough. But as the team starts picking up, everyone starts feeding off everyone’s energy and intensity and that’s when good things happen.

"Everyone considers us to be an offensive team because we have so many talented players. But we’re really a defensive team. That’s what we make our points off in transition."
Again let’s hope last night was just a start. We all know that we can’t get comfortable after a blowout first round win. However last night’s game did feel good. And we are hoping the team can hold on to momentum it regained from playing their classic brand of Ben Ball defense. If the team can sustain this level of intensity from here on out (as they did through the whole stretch run last year), I like our chances. All in all as AA it was a step in positive direction. Let’s hope they can keep moving.

GO BRUINS.