Now that UCLA has a good football coach, and Coach Howland's program is cruising along as one of the elite programs in the country, leave it to the village idiot local "reporters" to come up with some garbage to stir up our basketball paradise. Instead of worrying about the muck coming out of talk radio (thanks to those who are keeping track of that muck so we don't have to), we should all be very concerned about how our boys are going to perform at Maples Pavilion tomorrow night.
To say I am a little worried about tomorrow night's game would be an understatement. I believe Coach Howland is only 1-3 in Palo Alto. Spearheaded by Jordan and AA, we had a great win up there two years ago that clinched Howland's first Pac-10 championship, but we followed that up with a horrific loss up there last year, when we blew a double digit lead at half time. Yes, that was the game when many of us were feeling "comfortable."
Well, tomorrow night is going to be an all out battle. Stanford is 11-1. They are coming into tomorrow night's game after taking out Fresno State over the New Year's Day weekend, in which Brook Lopez notched 19 pts and 12 boards. That was BL's 3rd game of this season after missing the first 9 due to academic issues.
The boys in our front court will have their hands full tomorrow. As Sportsline.com notes, `even without Brook Lopez for the first nine games, the Cardinal was the Pac-10 leader in rebounding margin at plus-13.5 per game'.
Here is a quick look at Stanford rotation:
Usual Starters -- F Lawrence Hill, F Fred Washington, C Robin Lopez, G Mitch Johnson, G Anthony Goods. Key Subs -- F Brook Lopez; F Taj Finger; G Landry Fields; G Drew Shiller.
Fred Washington obviously is a fast healer. The senior wing missed just one game after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery during the club's two-week break for final exams. He returned to contribute five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench in the Cardinal's win over Texas Tech.
- Senior forward Taj Finger, starting in Washington's place, had 10 points and 11 rebounds against Santa Clara, then eight points and five boards vs. Texas Tech. Finger was averaging 10.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg over four games headed into the nonconference finale vs. Fresno State.
-- Lawrence Hill's inconsistent junior season took another downward turn with his 1-for-7 shooting effort in the win vs. Texas Tech. The Cardinal's top scorer a year ago at 15.2 ppg, Hill was averaging 10.2 through 11 games this season and had four different games where he scored no more than one basket.
Another thing to remember in that game was that the Cardinal dominated the Bruins on the boards, out-rebounding us by a 33-24 (although we had more offensive rebounds (12-11)). The Bruins also went to the free throw line only 15 times (9 for 15), while the Cardinal were a staggering 22 for 33 from the charity line.
Is it going to be different this year? Well, I think there are few x-factors for tomorrow night.
The presence of Kevin Love. All eyes are going to be on the match-up between KL and Brook Lopez. While on the defensive side Luc, Mata, and AA2 will have to play huge roles going up against the front court of Lopez, Washington, and Hill. We mentioned earlier today how Luc's production around the boards went up since the insertion of Roll in the lineup. Now that Roll is gone for a while, kids like Stanback and Dragovic will have to step up into a pressure situation and make some key shots, giving everything they can by playing smart basketball while giving an out effort in the department of hustle and intensity. Last year Stanford beat us in the second half with their hustle and intensity. We can't afford to go through the same routine and come out flat tomorrow or turn it off after coming out strong in the first half.
While the front court battle is going to be the main story, I think another key is going to who is going to match up against Anthony Goods in the back court. Given how Westbrook has been drawing the key defensive assignments on the back court, I'd imagine Howland will probably have him match up against the guy who was the key catalyst for Stanford's rally against the Bruins last season. I think this will be huge. If RW, DC and Shipp will have to exert ferocious pressure on the back court, making their guards work in every possession, and completely disrupt their rhythm as they bring the ball up. We are going to have to rotate well, without giving those guys any open looks from the three, and then if we can combine that with some ferocious interior defense, making sure to deny them opportunities for second chance points, we will be in good shape.
We will have to be smart on the offensive side, making sure we capitalize on every break opportunity (which means no wild passes - I am looking at you AA2), putting a premium on crisper passing, and, yes, look for Love down low. Obviously, I don't buy any of the garbage we heard earlier today. If there was anything to that kind of nonsense, Coach Howland would have put a stop to it a long time ago.
For you number/stat geeks, for more on the Cardinal go here.
Tomorrow night's game is going to be a tough battle. Of course, I expect us to win every game. However, more importantly for tomorrow night, I am hoping we can see a team that comes out with the same kind of fire and tenacity we have seen from it during the tourney season. Speaking of which, the Madness clock is on.
Yeah, it is time to get serious about Ben Ball.