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Something Feels Different

There is some great discussion going on in the comment threads about the match ups for Saturday. If you are thinking that something feels different this year (wrt to this UCLA v. Florida matchup), you are not alone. There are number of reasons why we are feeling a little better about this game than we did last year.

One of the reasons we are feeling good about our Ben Ball warriors is Shipp’s presence both on defense and offense. Ken Peters from AP has a write up on UCLA D, which has some info. on how Shipp’s contribution on defense is going to be a big factor:

One plus the Bruins have going for them this year is Josh Shipp, a 6-foot-5 swingman who missed all but four games in the 2005-2006 season after having hip surgery. He's provided a big boost on both ends of the court.

"Josh has really, really done a good job defensively for us," coach Ben Howland said. "Not only in the NCAA tournament, but throughout the year. He really rises to the challenge and he's going to have another big challenge in this game.

"He'll be guarding both (forward Ronnie) Brewer and Humphrey. He's our best help defender, too. He sees the floor better than anybody on our team as a weak-side defender, which is very important."

Shipp said Howland "preaches that defense wins championships. We hear it every day. He just makes us have pride in playing defense and trying not to let the other man score."

Explaining why he's able to help his teammates out on defense, Shipp said, "I always have the No. 3, the kind of guy that doesn't shoot as much. It gives me the ability to sit and watch a lot and then be there for the guys."
Some of us (including yours truly) have been hard on Shipp this season for often not playing within the flow of offense, taking ill advised 3s, and sometimes relaxing a bit on D. To his credit Josh has really turned in on as of late. Chris Dufresne from the LA Times has a profile on Shipp’s season, describing how he and his family have been soaking in this season as he has had a chance to make meaningful contributions to the team’s run to the Final 4, compared to last year when he could do nothing but cheerlead from the bench.

Shipp’s presence in Saturday’s starting line up will not be the only difference from last year’s squad. The OC Register’s Kuwada has an article comparing this year’s team to last year’s. Besides Shipp one of the other key differences from last year’s team is DC’s presence on defense, which may bode well for our Bruins in terms of stopping Green:
Staying in front of the ball was a problem for UCLA and point guard Jordan Farmar, which was highlighted in a February loss at USC and hammered home in the title game loss to the Gators.

Florida point guard Taurean Green had a poor night shooting - he led the Gators with eight 20-point games during the year, but could hit only 1 of 9 shots against the Bruins and missed all seven three-point shots that he attempted. But he had little problem handling the Bruins' hedging and on-ball pressure and repeatedly hurt them with penetration and his ability to get the ball to teammates in the right places.

The Gators' point guard had eight assists and only one turnover.

"He's terrific," Howland said. "He really hurt us last year."

But Green faces a much more disruptive defensive force in sophomore Darren Collison, who has the quickness and temerity that Farmar lacked as a defender.

"Green is their primary ball handler and he's very good and effective with the ball, but Darren has the ability to create a little havoc," Afflalo said. "I'm sure Darren will be up to the challenge."
Well DC sounds ready. Here he is in the DN’s UCLA report:
UCLA point guard Darren Collison thinks last year the Bruins didn't crave the championship like the Gators did.

"They wanted it more," Collison said. "Any time a team wants it more, they're always going to come out on top. We can say we lacked experience, but Florida had a sophomore team as well. They were real young. That's something we've got to change."

There was a fire, energy and intensity in the Gators, and it showed as they handled the Bruins in every phase of the game in their 73-57 romp.

Collison said "lack of energy" irked him most in the loss.

"Watching that game, we weren't going for the loose balls, and Florida had a tremendous amount of loose balls," he said. "They went for offensive rebounds way more than we did. ...

"They came there for a reason. We came there just to be there. That's the difference. This year, it's a whole new ballgame. This year, we can learn from our mistakes and, hopefully, be more successful."
My only concern at this point is that hopefully our guys are not too hyped up (which I can’t blame them given the hype surrounding this game going into Saturday). If our guys come out with the same sense of purpose they have been showing last two weeks, we are going to win this game. We just need to play our game based on solid and fundamental defense, and stay composed on offense, we are going to have a different ending to the season this year.