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A TOTAL TEAM Loss: Ben Ball Reflections/Notes

This was a total team loss and pretty much every single player in our rotation along with our coaching staff had a role in one of the most disappointing and frustrating losses in the Howland era of UCLA basketball.

I wanted to share with you my notes on some of our players and some general observations from yesterday's game.

Darren Collison
It kills me to even call out DC. Again this is a kid who has been gutting it out this whole season through nagging (and painful) injuries and doing what he can. But I think DC miss an opportunity to emerge as a team leader on the court who could have settled his team-mates down when things got a little rough. There were a number of moments in the second half when DC IMHO could have showed a little more patience and poise. There were opportunities on breaks when instead of setting up his team-mates, DC forced up ill advised shots only to get swatted down. Sometimes it also seemed like DC was dribbling around a little too much around the perimeter not getting the ball to Kevin down low.

Russell Westbrook
There is no doubt that RW is having a breakout season. Up until yesterday he has been making a strong case of emerging as AA's heir apparent among our Ben Ball warriors. However, yesterday not sure what happened. Perhaps it was the highly anticipated matchup against OJ2 under the spotlight of national or perhaps it was being too fired up. But RW was not being RW. He instead was trying to be OJ2. RW made more mistakes in one game than he had made the entire season and watching him I was getting the impression he was trying to hard and too wrapped up in putting together a "YouTube moment" instead of remembering what has made him such a break out player this season, which is focusing on defense first, using that to create his offense, and play with a team oriented purpose on both ends of the court. Yes he did a good job defensively on the defensive end on first half, yet at times he was playing without a purpose or direction on offense, again trying to hard for highlights instead of just focusing on getting his team to score. I imagine this will be an aberration for Russell and he will use this game as a learning point for rest of this season and his career at UCLA and beyond.

Josh Shipp
Shipp has been having a very good season in terms of numbers. He was pretty much the only who was shooting well early in the game yesterday. But as Shipp does sometimes when he gets in rhythm early he often gets a little too confident in his shots and gets out of control. And he did just that in the last mins when UCLA needed him to be in more control. But even more importantly Shipp got torn up and shredded on defense down the stretch by Hackett. Just watch the game again if you have the stomach for it and watch how Hackett went around Shipp (multiple times) and abused him when the game was on the line. Not pretty and fun to watch if you are junkie of Ben Ball who loved AA's inside-the-jersey, intense defense. It just wasn't pretty.

AA2 and Luc
We have to give Luc somewhat of a pass because he didn't play in the second half with a concussion. That said when Luc was in the game in the first half it appeared that he was forgetting his role in our team. I get that Luc's jumper may have improved a bit in last three years and he did have a clutch three against the Spartans early in the season. However, that still doesn't merit him chucking 3 pointers with regularity (0 for 3 in the first half), which doesn't comport with his role in this team. And same goes for AA2 who was taking needless jumpers from outside.

I love these guys. They are amazing athletes and I believe they are on their way to reaching legendary status in the lore of Ben Ball warriors in this Nation. They have been on their way with their surreal physical presence on defense, all out hustle, domination around the boards, and opportunistic offense within the team game. They didn't get here because of their jumpers and they forgot that within the heat of yesterday's helter-skelter moments. I guess they are kids after all giving everything they can. And I bet they are feeling worse about yesterday than anyone here on BN and will do what they can to get better from the bitter pill we all had to swallow in a funky Saturday afternoon.

Kevin Love
Kevin Love came to play. He did what he could both on the offensive end and around the boards. I do believe he like rest of his team-mate was wound up tight coming into this game. He was getting burned on the defensive end early by the Trojan bigs who were shredding our vaunted double down low with quick cuts. Love wasn't rotating back fast enough.

And then there was the issue of Love not getting the ball down the stretch. Lot of it goes back to what we talked about rest of the guys above who needs to once again appreciate that this is a team-game and that we are not going to hold on to the Pac-10 championship (forget winning banner 12 right now) if they don't trust each other and just focus on scoring as a team instead of trying to be heroes. Love is UCLA's best shot on offense down the stretch.

One of the more asinine comments I heard on ESPN yesterday (from Karl Revitch) was how UCLA and Southern Cal win more games when Love or OJ2 are not the focal points of their offense. That may be true in Southern Cal's case but not true at all when it comes to our team. I am not seeing Love needs to score 27-33 pts a game. What I am saying when we get in tough games where we have to grind it out and produce offense out of our half court, we have got to go to our best option, who is Love downlow. And when our upper classmen can come to terms with that reality instead of chucking up desperate and out of control shots, we will be in good shape.

Now let's move on to some general observations from this game:

Too Woundup/Intense Resulting In Jungle Ball
Last night in a comment thread I read how we didn't have enough intensity coming into this game and I think I agreed with that observation. Mulling it over lot more and watching early few mins of the game it seems like it was the opposite. If anything I think our players were too wound up, too fired up when they came out. Again may be it was the national TV, may be it was the hype of playing OJ2 and Southern Cal, but they were playing out of control. There wasn't any shortage of intensity but there was a lack of focus and intelligent plays that are the trademarks of a protypical Ben Ball warrior.

nfortunately it looked like playing jungle ball played right into Floyd's plan of unleashing AAU street ball with his talented athletes. And as mentioned above none of our starters, especially the upperclassmen failed to step up and exercise a little leadership to calm our guys down.

Lack of Coaching Adjustments
Our defense was slow yesterday. Most noticeably our double teams down low was ineffective as the TrOJies broke us down with their backdoor cuts. It seemed like our players weren't rotating back quick enough. For some reason I thought there would be an immediate recognition of the pattern from Coach Howland and his staff, but the adjustment never happened.

Also JHMO I think Keefe should have gotten more mins yesterday. Keefe made a mistake and he didn't see much action after that. But when he was in there he was making contributions on both end of the court. Keefe is getting more and more comfortable every game. He is not forcing his shots. He is grabbing boards. I thought he was playing lot more in control than AA2 and he deserved a few more mins than he got yesterday.

Absence of Roll in The Rotation
I know there are folks who have been hard on Michael Roll even when he was playing with injuries. Well I think the team missed Roll yesterday. What folks often do not appreciate is that Roll is a player who contributes more than just his so called designated role of being a long range shooter. Roll can play defense the way Coach Howland wants it, he can pass, and more importantly he can provide 15-20 mins off the bench. His presence in our rotation balances out our back court mins not to mention, it also keeps Luc at his most natural position at 4.

Any Silver Lining?
Not sure if there is anything positive to take from a loss. I don't really care about the excuses about the referees or the concussions to Luc and Mata-Real. We still had a 6 point lead with little more than 7 mins to go despite letting the other team shoot over 60 percent while we were shooting around 33 percent the whole game. Yet we imploded down the stretch, losing our poise, purpose, showing any kind of leadership on the court. Let's just hope the game will teach our guys and our coaches to self-reflect and figure out a way to play as a unit instead of gunning for highlights on You Tube.

I will end this post with a look back to my notes from Friday. Remember these quotes from Josh about the mindset between UCLA and Southern Cal:

"This team (UCLA), we're more like a unity team,'' Shipp said. "Coach (Ben Howland) emphasizes you have to sacrifice to win the championship. It is a total team effort. I think SC, is tough because a lot of those guys might try to (get) their points to do other things, but here our guys realize you have to sacrifice in order to win.''
So is UCLA's way better Do you think that is a better way?
"Definitely, if you want to win, you have to,'' Shipp said. "It's better to have a championship at the end of the day then to have a scoring title. We don't care about that.''
I wrote:
I appreciate the fact that Josh was speaking from the heart and was being honest. But I am not sure if there is any need for giving the other team any extra edge for motivation. Let JustSC be JustSC and let's take care of business on our own end. I don't think our players need to talk about the mindset about other teams.
Well look here. From Dohn today:
"As players, you really don't want to comment on the other team before a game, or say what you think they don't do well," Mayo said. "You really want to concentrate on your team, and maybe that's where they lacked that, concentrating on their team and worrying about what we do on the offensive end, or where we're located."
I hate to say it but I can't agree more with Mr. Mayo. And again there was no reason to give those guys that mental edge and motivation. It was obviously not the only reason for yesterday's disappointment but there was no need for Josh to even go there. Oh well.

Shipp and rest of his team-mates should be worrying about themselves and how to make our basketball program best rest of the season, instead of commenting on other team's business. It's just not good karma and it always bites back at the end. I hope the lesson was learned on Saturday.

It's not just Josh. As mentioned above every coach and players is responsible for yesterday's disappointing and frustrating loss.

I am confident under Coach Howland's leadership our guys will rebound. Let's hope they will go through some serious self-reflection and use the dose of much needed humility to get better for rest of the season.