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Ben Ball Roundup

After the Indiana game we brought up the point about how AA needs to get a little more aggressive and drive to the basketball. Well looky here. Look what Dohn writes in his UCLA report this morning:

Afflalo, an All-American, said he needs to stop settling for too many jump shots and be more aggressive in going to the basket.

It's a strategy he plans to employ when the No. 2-seeded Bruins face No.3seed Pittsburgh in Thursday's West regional semifinal in San Jose.

"I have to do a better job driving the basketball," Afflalo said. "That was something I struggled with during the season. I'm going to play close attention to it, and if my shot is not falling, I have to find other ways to score and manufacture points.

"I can't rely on my jump shot all the time."
This is great news. I have always thought AA is more than capable of attacking the rim (within the flow of our offense) and get closer looks and draw fouls. If his outside shots are not falling at first, that’s how he can get himself back in the game. I hope Coach Howland will have some set plays in place which will look for either AA or our other guards to slash inside and attack the rim.

Elsewhere in the Daily News, former UCLA beat writer Billy Witz has a long article on how the Bruins play a physical brand of basketball. Witz starts with the not so original theme wrt to so called style of Ben Ball, which may not be as "elegant" as style of basketball Coach Wooden’s team played decades ago. However, he goes on to make the following points, which I think is fairly on the money in terms of one of the foundations based upon which Howland has built our program:
There is a reason why UCLA's shooting percentage improves in the second half from 46 percent to 51.1, and from 33.7 on three-pointers to 41.2. And why they've won six games they've trailed at halftime.

"They make you feel it every game," Cal guard Ayinde Ubaka said of the Bruins. "Everybody on the team has a physical game, from top to bottom, the guards, too.

"When you go in to rebound, they throw you around and push you under the basket. They're relentless. They fight and fight, and most teams aren't ready for that.

"A lot of basketball players don't like to be physical, so they get you out of your comfort zone."

The bedrock of Howland's philosophy is getting into the weight room. Several Bruins said they generally lift four to five times a week in the offseason, and two to three times during the season, focusing on basketball-specific strength and explosiveness exercises.

Some of the weight work is required. Often, though, it is up to the players - something that is helped when the leader leads by example.

"Arron Afflalo is by far our best guy in terms of weight lifting," Howland said. "He lifts throughout the year, he takes it very serious and he's the MVP of the league and our best player. There's a direct correlation there the strongest, toughest guy is our best guy."
What I think the article forgets to mention is how fundamentally sound our team is. Witz like other writers in the MSM forgets to take into account that Howland had to build his program a certain way, because when he got here he found a UCLA brand, which had been destroyed and burned into the ground by former head coach. He was fortunate that he was able to persuade AA and Farmer to come aboard at the outset. However, it wasn’t easy for him to line up recruits at the outset, while programs like KU, Duke, and UNC (UA and UDub on the West) were stockpiling McDonald Americans.

I am sure in the coming years Howland will tweak his style and open up our offense, while still have the team grounded on the principle of striving to become the strongest, toughest team in the conference.

Howland is a stubborn coach. And one of the things he is stubborn about is how he uses his timeouts. Mark Whicker (OCR) and Pucin (LAT) finally wrote on the topic this week, after having the chance to ask him during the entire season. Whicker has the better explanations:
The typical coach would rather surrender his spleen than call timeout in the first 15 minutes of a half.

Phil Jackson is famous for watching his players flail around and learn to escape the messes they've made. Of course, Jackson coaches 82 games in the regular season, and his playoffs aren't single elimination.

Howland is different. It's a difference that's consistent with everything else he does. He's a "now" guy. He is not going to go down with bullets in his chamber or timeouts in his hands.

They don't carry over to next week.

He also believes that every minute is money time, and that mistakes that are corrected in the 22nd minute won't be repeated in the 40th.
Works for me. But part of me wishes he still would hold on to one TO just in case we need one in the very last possession (the Cal game comes into mind). In any event as I have said before when a coach is 58-12 during his past two seasons, I can’t really fuss too much on this point.

Lastly, a great profile in the LA Times on the friendship between Howland and Dixon. Robyn Norwood paints a moving picture of how close these coaches and their families are with each other:
This is how close UCLA Coach Ben Howland is to Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon.

Dial the number for the home Jamie and Jacqueline Dixon share with their two young children in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and Ben and Kim Howland's 22-year-old daughter, Meredith, might answer the phone.

A nursing student at Pittsburgh — and a cheerleader at the school when her father was coach — Meredith is a regular baby sitter for the Dixons.

This is also how close Howland and Dixon are: After Dixon's sister Maggie, the coach at Army, died suddenly at 28 last spring, Howland was a pallbearer.

It is a relationship that runs both long and deep.
Just to follow up on my post from yesterday, I think I am not going to let some stragglers comments on a great Pitt blog, ruin the atmosphere around what is shaping up to be a great matchup. If you read that entire article it is crystal clear how those two coaches are like brothers and how much respect and appreciation they have for each other. We will not let the feelings of some jilted fans ruin the atmosphere around this great matchup.

More on the Panthers a bit later.