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Golden Days

Congratulations to AA and his team-mates, and to Coach Howland and his staff for winning the second consecutive Pac-10 regular season championship. I don’t think there is any shred of doubt left that no matter what happens the rest of this season, this is the premier basketball program in the West and will be in that position for many years to come. Obviously, there are lots of games (hopefully) left in this season and the Bruins have other goals (which I will allude to below). But, at this point, I am a happy camper. This regular season has been a smashing success by all possible accounts.

Now, let’s talk about the game. I am going to try to break up my thoughts into three section early this am. I will start with the good stuff, move on to some of the things that bugged me, and then set up for a segue to the rest of our season (hopefully, I sound coherent, because it’s freaking early in the morning and it’s still dark outside).

Let’s start with the good stuff.

WSU is a wonderful, well coached team. They are the second best team in the conference. And, yes, Tony Bennett is (deservedly so) one of the odds on favorites to win the NCOY honors. That said, our Ben Ball warriors led by AA showed the nation (well, the ones that stayed up to watch the horrific FSN broadcast, see the Ugly section) why this UCLA program has the best defense in the nation.

The Bruins were SUFFOCATING.


They were PHYSICAL.

And the guy who once again carried the torch for the Ben Ball warriors was none other than NPOY candidate Arron Afflalo. Arron SAVAGED Cougar’s own MVP candidate Derrick Low. He shut down the outstanding pg, much the same way he throttled Cal’s Ubaka earlier in the season. Lowe’s line was astonishing. AA held the Cougars leading scorer and offensive catalyst to 2 points, 1 for 8 shooting, 0 assists, and 4 personal fouls [box score]. I am not sure what I can add to that kind of breathtaking defensive effort by the current Bruin legend. You can sense and see the agony and frustration poor Low was experiencing through the befuddled and bewildered look on his face throughout most of the second half.

And it was not just Low who was feeling that way. Pucin picks up this quote from Wazzu’s other leading scorer – Kyle Weaver, who lead the team with 14 points:

Kyle Weaver, who led the Cougars with 14 points, said it's hard playing UCLA. "They don't let our patience bother them," he said. "They never rest. There's a reason they are ranked No. 2 in the country."
The Bruins never rested and they also physically wore down the Cougs. Sure, the condition of the Cougars' floor may have been shoddy, but it wasn’t the Bruins who were stumbling. There was a reason Weaver, Cowgill, and Clark were finding themselves on the floor, all battered, bruised, and nicked up. That’s exactly how it feels when you take on the Ben Ball warriors. We should know. We are used to reading about our players getting all bruised up after those early season practices. There is only so much you can take physically when you go at it for an entire 40 minutes, strengthened, conditioned, both physically and mentally, by the toughest coaching staff in America. Again, I get the excuse that the floor condition may have been bad, but notice that none of our players were wincing in pain. And people wonder why we call them Ben Ball warriors.

Oh, I mentioned coaching. Like I said, Bennett is a wonderful young coach, who probably has a great future ahead of him (in cough***a Big-10 school***cough). However, it was pretty apparent who was the better coach yesterday at Pullman. It was Coach Howland who made the masterful adjustments (as he always does) in the second half, putting his players in position to grab a stranglehold of the momentum and maintain it for the entire second half in one of the most hostile road atmospheres of this college basketball season. Bennett had no answer for UCLA's strategy to have DC dribble penetrate, attack the basket, and dish off to his big men for dunks and layups inside, which keyed the Bruin run. Bennett couldn’t find an answer on offense, as the Bruin D held their positions, stayed patient, and ultimately beat WSU in their own game, staring them down in a battle of will. Here is Bennett in Dohn’s post game report:
"UCLA did not take possessions off," Cougars coach Tony Bennett said. "A lot of teams in our league, us included, will take possessions off and play for the big run, or the big swing."
Sure, the Cougars might have missed what looked like couple of easy shots in the first couple of mins of second half. But, as always, the Bruin defense had something to do with it. There is a reason the Cougars shot 10 of 20 in the first half, while making only 8 out of their 28 shots in the second. It’s called good coaching that inspired our players to play a relentless, physical, tenacious, basic inside-the-jersey defense.

Despite all the good stuff and the euphoric feelings of this Friday, there are some issues that bugged me yesterday that I have to share with you:
  • I thought Shipp had a so-so game. Sure, he was the second leading scorer on the team with 12 points, and made those clutch FTs in the end. However, my stomach wasn’t feeling so hot when he was being careless on offense, turning the ball over 4 times, and not finishing on a crucial fast break in the first half. I think I am hard on Shipp because I think he may be an even more versatile athlete than AA. I really believe he can be a great player if he just settles down just a little, and exercise a little more patient on offense. I do believe he has been picking it up of late, however, those 4 TOs really bothered me.
  • I wasn’t happy with Mata and AA2’s performance yesterday. They combined for 10 points and 9 rebounds. That is not going to work boys. Of course, we have to give some credit to the Cougars' big guys. But I was expecting a little more from these two going up against the combination of Cowgill and Baynes. The Bruins gave up multiple second chance baskets in the first half and the Cougars actually out-rebounded the Bruins by 2 (28 to 26). We have got to do better than that as we go on to our remaining games. And I think we will.
Now, let’s talk about the ugly part of last night’s game. It didn’t have anything to do with the players, coaches, and fans. I wanted to talk a little about Barry Tomkins and Dan Balloni (sorry, I am not going to bother to look up the spelling of this tool's name). How do these douchebags get paid to comment on basketball games? Here are some examples:
  • Balloni called Shipp a good 3 point shooter without looking up the stat that Shipp is shooting less than 30 percent from behind the 3 point line.
  • When the Bruins were on their second half run, Tomkins and Balloni were commenting that the Cougars were just missing open shots, without bothering to observe the kind of defense the Bruins were playing. It didn’t become obvious to these gasbags that perhaps it was the Bruins' defense that was causing the Cougars to miss those shots, when they realized WSU at one point was shooting 26 percent in the second half. Of course, then, in the last five minutes of the game, Balloni completely contradicted what he said in the first 10 mins of the second half by saying that the Cougars didn’t get any open looks in the second half. F*cking moron.
  • I don’t know about you. But it was driving me crazy when the Bruins went up by 10, and Tomkins and Balloni kept saying how the "Bruins were in total control." Maybe they are just idiots. But I had this sinking feeling that these two Bay Area douchebags were just daring the Bruins to get jinxed in those last 5 mins.
  • Balloni actually said "Bruins do not have a good offense", again completely ignoring our body of work for the entire season.
  • In the last minute, the Bruins still had many fouls to give. When the Bruin players were going for the obvious strategy to go for the steal while the Cougars were in-bounding the ball, Tomkins was saying things like "oh that is just a bad foul by Aboya."
Again, I wonder what goes through network execs' minds when they have these buffoons doing broadcasts who have absolutely zero clue about the game, and have no awareness of the totality of the circumstances. It really takes away the enjoyment of the game and is a huge disservice to not just UCLA basketball fans, but fans of college basketball in general. These tools are just another reason I freaking despise the current contract with FSN.

Anyways, on to some happy thoughts. The Bruins still have a long way to go. Of course, there are those so called pundits, who are now trying to jump on our bandwagon (after not paying much attention the entire season). Whatever. Who cares what these clowns have to say.

We have a long way to go. Pucin wrote in her wrap up how Coach Howland and his players have the big picture in mind:
Afterward Howland's suit was still dry and perfectly pressed. There was no Gatorade dousing and in the locker room there were a few perfunctory cheers. "We're pretty humble," Collison said. "We don't want to rub anything in the other team's face."

And, besides, this was only a single game, a single step, a single goal achieved. "We're focused on the Final Four," Collison said. "We're that good."

At the right time of the season, the Bruins are still improving. "I hope we're not at our best yet," Afflalo said. "But we're getting there."
This has been a long journey for AA, who also had this to say to Dohn:
"I'm very happy," said junior guard Arron Afflalo, who led the Bruins with 14 points. "This is another year we establish UCLA as a premiere team. The whole thing is to be consistent with that, and get it back to the golden days."
You have already given us those golden days Arron.

We know we got a ways to go. But right now it feels like we are already living in those golden days. Well, we are just getting started.