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In [Defensive] Rhythm

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Surprise. Surprise.

Ben Ball warriors win another huge tournament game with defense. Bruins took on one of the best coached teams in the tournament and pulled out an impressive win by going to their bread and butter. Once again Bruins came out playing focused, suffocating, stifling defense for the third game in a row, which was very reminiscent of the defense they were playing through the stretch run of last season. Led by AA and DC’s leadership in the back-court and a superb effort from our bigs, Bruins shut down the Pitt Panthers. Dohn reports on another stellar defensive effort from our boys in blue and gold:

The harried Panthers (29-8) shot 36.4percent from the field, missing their share of layups and open shots, but also succumbing to UCLA's defensive pressure.

"Our defense was spectacular, I thought," Howland said. "It had to be, or we weren't going to win this game. We've played good defense now our last three games in a row. I really credit our guys, just preparation, how focused they are, they heart, the intensity they play on every possession."
As usual after watching a classic defensive Ben Ball game, lot of us are seeing the same type of comments from Pitt fans and players about how it was a matter of them not finishing their shots or failing to make layups, like we have heard from opposing fans and players throughout last two years. Once again some of our opponent’s fans are having a hard time accepting the fact that it was the focused, fundamental defensive effort put forth by our team, that resulted in total disruption in the rhythm of Pitt’s offense leading them to take harried shots, and keeping them from executing in offense in general.

Going into last night’s game the focus was on Pitt’s man in the middle. Dohn has the low down on how our bigs (led by Mata) defensively dominated one of the best centers in the country.
Pittsburgh's edge was supposed to be in the middle, with the 7-footer Gray creating matchup problems for the Bruins. But Gray was so ineffective, and such a non-factor, that foul trouble to UCLA starters Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who combined to play 12 minutes in the first half, meant nothing on the defensive end.

Even with little-used sophomore Ryan Wright guarding Gray, the Panthers' big man did nothing. Aboya also limited Gray, whose biggest moment of the first half was blocking Arron Afflalo's 3-point attempt in the closing seconds of the first half.

Gray scored four points in the opening half, and did not attempt a shot after a dunk with 14:22 remaining.
It was not just Mata and AA2. Everyone, I mean everyone chipped in. Dohn mentioned Wright. However, one of the biggest stars of last night was James Keefe. The kid from Orange County, had one of his best games of his freshman year. Although he doesn’t have much to show in his stat line (2 points) it was the incredibly productive defensive minutes he provided during the 10 minutes he played (most of them in the first half) that made a difference in first half. Kuwada from the Keefe’s home town paper noted the freshman’s key contribution:
Mbah a Moute went to the bench with his second foul just 3:22 into the game, but even then the Panthers couldn’t pick up their offense against the Bruins’ bench. Keefe, the freshman from Santa Margarita High, played more minutes in the first half (10) than in any of the past eight games. And things got no worse when Mata picked up his second foul with 12:04 remaining.

The Bruins, advancing to a regional final for the second consecutive year for the first time since 1979 and ’80, basically shuttered Gray, doubling hard when the ball went into the post.

Gray didn’t even get a shot during the final 14:22 of the half (sitting on the bench for part of the stretch), and went into a silent mode after his dunk got Pitt to within 10-9. Even to that point, Gray had difficulty finishing close to the basket, hitting only two of shots. And he did little else the rest of the half, other than turn the ball over with an errant cross-court pass when doubled by Aboya and Keefe.
Keefe’s team-mates certainly appreciated his efforts. From Pucin in the LAT:
Much postgame praise went to freshman James Keefe. The 6-foot-8 forward from Santa Margarita High, a highly recruited high school All-American who has averaged about six minutes a game, played 10 in the first half. His two points might not seem like much, but they came on a confidence-boosting dunk and his active defense against seven-foot Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray was welcomed by two of his foul-plagued teammates.

"It always feels good to get a dunk," Keefe said. "It boosts your confidence."

"James was really excellent," said Mbah a Moute, who sat out the final 16:38 of the first half after he'd acquired two fouls.

"James gave us a huge game," said center Lorenzo Mata, who also had two fouls in the first eight minutes.
Keefe was not alone. The other kid from OC also had a pretty significant night. Roll also provided 10 invaluable minutes off the bench making 2 clutch shots in the second half, that made sure Bruins stayed up in somewhat comfortable margin.

It was a total team effort. And our boys won the game even though some of them individually didn’t have spectacular offensive night. IIRC Shipp was the only Bruin who made more than 3 FGs. I don’t believe AA had a single FG in the second half. Neither did Luc. AA did exactly what we needed him to when his shots were not falling. He kept battling, staying focused on the defensive side of the ball, while getting himself to the FT line. It kept him and his team on a defensive rhythm. From Helen Elliot in the LAT:
They also need to believe they can win, and Howland has helped impress that upon them by giving them the tools and confidence to prevail no matter what style their opponent chooses to play.

Defense remains the constant, whether they're playing an up-tempo game or the deliberate and ugly game they played in defeating Indiana in the second round.

"The thing about us is that at the beginning of the season, the coaches were preaching fastbreak, push it out more," Collison said, "but teams started slowing it up more and we have to prepare ourselves. This team is doing a good job of doing that.
Bruins were well prepared for the Panthers on Thursday night. Now hopefully they can take the momentum and keep themselves in rhythm when they come out against an explosive and incredibly talented Kansas Jayhawks. If the Bruins stay calm, focused, and play with their sense of purpose on Saturday night, they will have a shot. Dilbeck in the DN on how the Bruins play like they’ve been here before:
These Bruins play like they've been here before.

Last year, there was almost this sense of discovery as UCLA honed in and seemed to improve with every game.

That run included a spectacular comeback against Gonzaga in a Sweet 16 matchup.

This UCLA team plays with confidence borne from that run, with perhaps less exuberance but with greater calm, a sense of purpose.
I truly believe Bruins have nothing to lose now. This season for me has already turned out to be a HUGE SUCCESS. Despite losing 3 starters to the NBA (including two seniors), and despite not having a single senior on the squad, the Bruins have put together a 29 win season (with a Pac-10 regular season championship), and find themselves in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. At this point everything else is gravy for me. Bruins are going to be the underdogs against a team stuffed with Mickey Ders/incredibly talented athletes, who are going to be under a lot of pressure to make the Final-4. Like I said all our guys have to do is stay in their defensive rhythm, stay calm, and play with a sense of purpose on Saturday. It is going to be fun.

GO BRUINS.