Wanted to clarify a point I made in my previous post on today's game. When I wrote that the Bruins really have noting to lose and didn't have anything on the line, I didn't concede a loss. I was making the point that the Bruins should feel absolutely no pressure, which should give them the psychological advantage against a Huskies team which is desperate to end their highly disappointing season on a feel good note.
All that said, from the comments in today's papers, it is pretty clear the Bruins want this game. Howland wants to win this game to keep the momentum going:
Though he scored eight points in Thursday's conference title-clinching win over 13th-ranked Washington State and happily talked about the state of his baby hook shot -- "I'm making it, right?" Aboya said -- the sophomore had taken a hard shot to his left knee. Though Aboya played after taking the hit from Cougars center Aron Baynes, UCLA trainer Carrie Rubertino told Howland Thursday night that Aboya was in pain.
When the Bruins arrived here Friday afternoon and headed to practice, Aboya went to have an X-ray on his knee.
"I want to win," Howland said when asked why he didn't just send Aboya home. "I want him to play."
Though the knee was swollen and painful Friday, the X-ray results were negative. No structural damage was found and Aboya was told he should be available against Washington.
"Momentum," Howland said. "It's important. We're trying to win this game as if we have to win because we need to win. We're fighting to be one of the higher seeds."
So it was striking when Afflalo said that there are shortcomings, on a team that is 26-3, and 15-2 in the Pac-10, that still needed fixing.
"You're never going to be perfect, but you strive for it and there are some things we still need to work on," Afflalo said. "We have a few lapses on the way we execute offensively, and then (with) our intensity defensively. There were times last year where we were just focused in and it seemed like every possession was hard for the other team. Every shot was contested, every pass, every move, was complicated for the other team. You could tell.
"This year, we still have some little lapses. I think if we take care of those things, we'll be fine when the time is right."
Today's contest at seventh-place Washington (17-12, 7-10) has no bearing on the conference race, but still has great meaning for the Bruins. UCLA likely will be the No. 1 seed in the West when the NCAA Tournament begins in less than two weeks, but a few more wins would go a long way toward securing it.
By the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, UCLA wants to iron out a few other issues. The Bruins still have too many possessions in which point guard Darren Collison is dribbling out of trouble as the shot clock winds down, and it usually ends in a hurried shot. Also, the post play of center Lorenzo Mata, power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the player who backs up both of them, Alfred Aboya, remains inconsistent.
BTW no matter what happens with next year's roster we are still going to call Aboya AA2. I don't think anyone here will object if we reserve the initials "AA" just for No. 4. It will be our token gesture/tribute to one of the greatest players ever to put on a UCLA basketball uniform.
It is going to be another crazy weekend for me. I will put up the game thread in a bit. Hopefully, T, A, M and all of you guys will be around to keep the place rocking in the comments and the diaries.