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Opening Night: Reinforcing The Tenets of Ben Ball

So the Ben Ball opening night is here. Many of you who are lucky to live in Southern California have already gotten a little taste of this year’s version of Ben Ball warriors in our first two exhibition games. Tonight few more will join the party via ESPNU as the season gets underway for real against Prairie View A&M. For the game preview please head over to Bruin Basketball Report.

The big question in everyone’s mind is whether the Bruins of this year will be running and gunning a little more given all the talent we have in our back court. Well, in the world of Ben Ball, that will only happen if the Bruins can (wait for it … wait for it … wait for it) REBOUND and play DEFENSE at a consistent level. David Wharton from the LA Times has a delicious article today on how our Ben Ball warriors this season will need to hit the boards to get the fast breaks started:

Blue-collar ethic has carried UCLA to three consecutive Final Four appearances. Asked if the 2008-09 Bruins will undergo a style makeover, Howland answered firmly in the negative.

Until players take care of the dirty work, he said, "everything is wishful thinking."

No Bruin is likely to replace Love's 10.6 rebounds a game last season. Instead, the team will need a coordinated effort, everyone pitching in.

It's a message the coach drives home with physical rebounding drills.

"Everyone's just getting knocked around," forward James Keefe said.

Keefe has been the team's best rebounder in practice. He should get help from Drew Gordon and J'mison Morgan, the two big men in UCLA's top-ranked recruiting class, who are expected to contribute immediately.

There is also senior center Alfred Aboya -- if he can overcome a tendency for early foul trouble.

"I don't know how else to say it, that has got to stop," Collison said. "We need Alfred out there."

AA2 is a huge factor. He needs to stay in the game to help out his current team-mates make up the lost production due to departures of KL, LRMAM, RW and LMR:

A year ago Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Westbrook and Lorenzo Mata-Real combined for 24 rebounds per game.

The starting lineup of center Alfred Aboya, Keefe, wing Josh Shipp, point guard and preseason All-American Darren Collison, and Holiday, combined to averaged 10.7 rebounds per game last season, or 0.1 rebounds more than Love averaged by himself.

Shipp is UCLA's leading returning rebounder at 3.2 per game, and with teams shooting 41.8 percent against the Bruins last season and defense to be a key staple again, there should be plenty of opportunities for rebounds this season.

"We have to have all five players rebounding," Howland said. "Darren Collison has to average four rebounds per game on defense for us this year. Alfred has never been a great defensive rebounder. He is a great block-out guy. We need to get all our players going to the glass. Everything is wishful thinking until you get the rebound and get stops."

Collison, a two-year starter, averaged a career-best 2.6rebounds per game last season.

However, Howland's insistence on rebounding dominance does play dividends. The Bruins were 29-1 when winning the rebounding edge last season, but 4-3 when outrebounded.

But the bigger team commitment to rebounding likely means less transition baskets.

"Will there be a lot of deep outlets?" Howland said. "It will be more difficult because our point guard has to get his nose dirty and be in there for us to win."

And if you are wondering, whether CBH’s message is getting through, here is JH in

What Holiday envisions himself doing is not what you'd expect of a highly touted blue-chipper.

"One of my goals is to play good defense -- to be the defensive player of the year," Holiday said, sounding not unlike Arron Afflalo on his arrival five years ago in Howland's first class.

And the LAT:

"Playing defense -- that's the main thing," said Holiday who, on top of everything else, appears to be a quick study. "Blocking my man and helping my teammates."

Somewhere AA and RW must be smiling. LET’S GO!

We will an open thread tonight with a link for those who want to follow the game through online streaming.