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No Doubt

I will be frank. Heading into last night’s game, I was feeling pretty gloomy about our prospects against Oregon on their home court. We didn’t have Luc. We didn’t have Mata-Real. Those are two of our toughest and most experienced warriors who have been through all the wars. Our backcourt was in a funk and then there was all the mental games that were going around Kevin Love.

So even for someone like me who has completely drunk on Ben Ball kool aid, I was resigned to the idea that the Bruins could lose last night and then look to recover from their first two game slide since the middle of the 05-06 season.

Well, I am a little more than giddy about our warriors once again proving my doubts totally wrong and delivering what Coach Howland is calling the "best" win of his (what will turn out to be a HOF) career to date:

"This was the best win I've ever been part of in my 27 years in this business," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

The Bruins came in short-handed because starting forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and backup center Lorenzo Mata-Real were sidelined with concussions suffered in Saturday's loss to USC. Early in the second half, starting forward Alfred Aboya and the new sixth man James Keefe had each four fouls. UCLA also is missing swingman Michael Roll (foot) who would be the sixth man in the rotation.

"Three of our top seven guys are out," Howland said, "and we beat a really good team. It was unbelievable."
Not only did we beat a good team. We beat a team that was undefeated on their home court and was probably looking to last night’s game and all the bruhahahahaha around Love as their statement game of the season. It certainly was a statement game for them last year. And winning last night would have given a boost to their chances of making the tournament.

There is no need for me to wax poetic about who was the man last night. From Brian Dohn on a Bruin performance for the ages:
Love's performance was more impressive because of its necessity. The Bruins played without starting forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and backup center Lorenzo Mata-Real, both of whom were out with concussions. Both players' status is in question for Saturday's game at Oregon State, and their absence put more pressure on Love to deliver.

"Kevin Love was just dominating," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I thought he handled (the crowd) really well. It never affected him at all. Overall, he was very poised. I thought our team was very poised.

"I knew how good (Love) was. This doesn't surprise me at all what he's doing. It's unbelievable. He's the best freshman I've ever coached and you look at what he's doing right now, it's incredible."
What was even more special about that performance was how Love took charge when things really got bleak. Once we got down by 7 in the middle of first half, it was pretty much Love who was keeping us in the game by getting down and dirty down low and getting to the line.

And for all that nonsense and stupid tricks the PC idiots were throwing at him. Well, here is Mr. Love’s reaction (in Dohn’s article):
"I had a lot of friends and family here, and a lot of people that hate me for not going to Oregon were here as well," Love said. "It was a fun game and a fun atmosphere. I'm not going to lie. It's pretty nice. It's pretty nice."
A freshman who is always poised both on and off the court:

Photo Credit:Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images (via LA Times)

Speaking of "pretty nice," let’s talk a little about DC. Following the disappointing game against Southern Cal, DC comes up with his best game of the season. He scored a career high 22 points, with a huge chunk of them coming when the Bruins needed him most. He was poised, calm and kept his team under control. And guess who brought out the best in him? From Dohn again:
"I feel a lot better without the injuries nagging me," said Collison, who has dealt with hip and knee injuries this season. "Coach Howland had a meeting with me, and he told me the things I really needed to hear. He told me he needed me to start controlling the tempo more and just be more of a leader out there."
Somehow we had a feeling Coach Howland was going to find a way to refocus his warriors after the Southern Cal game. DC’s comments about Howland are not surprising. However, it is still refreshing to hear from our guys directly how their coach communicates with them to get the best out of them.

Now, if you didn’t see the game, there were two key sequences that really turned the tide for our warriors. From the OC Register:
The Bruins (17-2, 5-1 in the Pac-10) were down by seven points in the second half, but crept closer behind some big baskets by Darren Collison. They then took over the game with a closing flurry that started with an improbable 3-point shot from Nikola Dragovic, who had not played in three of the Bruins' five Pac-10 games.

Down 71-67, Dragovic hit the 3-pointer from the right to bring the Bruins to a one-point deficit. Oregon (12-7, 304) had a chance to build that lead again, but Russell Westbrook came from behind to knock the ball away from Maarty Leunen, the ball bouncing out to midcourt where the Bruins' guard gathered it in and took it the rest of the way for a layup that gave UCLA a lead with 2:38 to play.

"They'd been doing the same play the whole game. It was just a point of rotating over. I saw it there so I just took the steal," Westbrook said of the play. "The shot clock was running down, time was running out, so I knew he had to shoot pretty soon. I was just waiting on it."
I will post the highlights of those two plays (a mega thanks to Grok451) in a few minutes. But, yeah, I’d say Dragovic’s bomb was huge. And I am hoping and praying this will give him the confidence for rest of the season (and his career at UCLA). It was also good to see Westbrook going back to being Westbrook, playing AA like defense and generating his offense off it.

As our guys move on from last night, we still have a few kinks to work out.

It might be a good idea to rest up Luc and Mata-Real even more to get them totally ready for next week. I think the Oregon State game presents a great opportunity for Keefe to step up. He played ok in spurts last night. He had a key 3 pointer. However, he needs to play in a little more control. And speaking of playing in control, COMEON AA2. Comeon man. I love that kid’s hustle, heart, and desire. But he just needs to control himself just a little bit.

Our defense also needs to improve heading into Saturday’s game. I thought our on ball defense was very poor early. Those guys were getting many good looks from the paint. They were scoring at will early on with a lot of layups. I think we caught a break when Malik went out with the injury. We had no answer for that guy, as our forwards looked helpless matching up against him.

We really need to tighten up our perimeter D and can’t let their guards go right around us. We are not going to go very far this season if we don’t lock up perimeter defense.

However, those are issues that I think are correctable. And we have a coach who will be working away relentlessly with his players to correct those issues and improve as a team every day. We will sit back and enjoy the ride.

And, in my case, I should never doubt our Ben Ball warriors.