Finally, it's Thursday. This means all day I will be picturing how our guys will play their trademark tough positional defense against a well coached Panther team, and obsess over whether we are going to see DC, AA, Shipp being able to slash and dribble inside Pitt defense to get off good shots of find open team-mates. I have the same feeling (cautiously optimistic) that I had going into the Washington State game from two weeks ago. Our guys know they are going up against a tough, well coached opponent. So focus shouldn't be the issue tonight. It will all come down to execution on both sides of the court.
Pittsburgh Center Aaron Gray is the center of LA sportswriter’s attention (as if the Panthers don’t have other players on their roster) on this game day. Diane Pucin discovers how Pitt runs its offense through the monster center:
Added Afflalo: "He's big and he's skilled."
Mata said the 270-pound Gray's best move is "just being so big. I watched the film and sometimes he scores just because he swallows you. He just blocks you out."
Gray isn't the most agile player on the court, though, and he is only a 54% free-throw shooter. So the Bruins will practice their well-choreographed double team of the post. They will make Gray pass the ball, try to force Gray to move with the ball, and try to make sure Gray doesn't, as Mata said, swallow them.
UCLA's double teaming of Gray will be different than what UCLA employed against Indiana's big man D.J. White, who wasn't double-teamed until he dribbled and turned his shoulder toward the basket.
"(Gray) has to be double-teamed," UCLA reserve power forward/center Alfred Aboya said.
"He's big. We will have to double team, and it will be tough to double team him because he's a great passer.
"We have to be aggressive. We can't give him any room to dribble, or throw the ball.
"He's very quick. With D.J. we had to wait. But with him, we have to double as soon as he catches the ball."
Gray and 6-10 forward Levon Kendall, a redshirt freshman during Howland's final season with Pittsburgh, give the Panthers size and presence down low that the Bruins haven't often seen and probably can't match. Gray gained some mobility when he lost weight and cut his body fat last summer, but he'll never be mistaken for nimble and the Bruins will have an overall edge in quickness.
"We've been out-sized all year," Bruins forward Josh Shipp said. "It hasn't really bothered us too much. We do a lot of double-teaming and rotating. We're just going to stick to what we do, and hopefully, that works."
Again I think the key will be how Bruins rotate on D and make sure Pitt doesn’t get any open look around the perimeter. They simply cannot afford to play the kind of lazy double teaming we saw during the Washington game in Seattle, when Appleby was getting one open look after another resulting from lazy rotation on our defense.
Moreover, AA and DC will have to put pressure from the get go so that Pitt guards have difficulty starting their set pieces when they cross the half court.
This is going to be an intense, bruising battle tonight. Panthers are capable of playing the same inside-the-jersey defense we have been treated to for last three years (I don’t count Howland’s first year all that much) in Westwood. It is going to be fun. It will all come down to execution. Let’s hope we see the same Ben Ball warriors that pulled off the biggest win of the season two Thursday nights ago at Pullman, Washington.