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Coming Into Focus

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Happy President's Day BN.

Thanks to Telemachus for getting the day started with the perfect video of DC and KL getting together at the end of the game. As has been the hallmark of Coach Howland's program in Westwood, it was another team-effort for the boys in blue and gold that carried the day in LA. From Robyn Norwood in the LA Times:

Darren Collison, coming off a poor game of his own, knocked down shots even when they didn't seem to want to go for him.

And Kevin Love started a fastbreak not with an outlet pass but a floor burn.

UCLA's 56-46 victory over USC on Sunday night at the Galen Center wasn't a thing of beauty, unless you appreciate a tough "W" in the dog days of February.

Instead of a sweep at the hands of USC and a two-game losing streak after a bad loss to Washington last week, the Bruins have another win.

They shot 33.9%, making only 21 of 62 shots -- and won.

"I said this was a grind, but we got it done," Love said.

There was no dramatic play at the end, but Collison grabbed Love and hugged him after the buzzer.

"That doesn't happen after every game," Love said. "Darren and I talked a lot this week. He was very, very vocal. He really wanted to win."
Well we have been talking about leadership since the Washington game last weekend. I think it is slowing coming into focus who is leading this team on and off he court:
"We hate losing, and some people questioned how angry I was this week coming into (Tuesday's) press conference," said UCLA point guard Darren Collison, who rebounded from a horrid game last week at Washington. "It was a disgrace to myself, a disrespect to my teammates, and we were going to prove that wasn't us. We did it together as a team. It wasn't an individual performance."
Yeap. Pretty much everyone of the 8 players showing up in the box score made their presence felt in yesterday's victory.

They were led by Russell's ferocity on defensive end of the court, who made some kind of statement shutting down over hyped OJ2. Dohn on RW's superlative defensive effort:
O.J. Mayo, who was averaging 20.2 points per game, was held to four points, the first time he scored less than 12 in his career. He also turned the ball over a stunning 10 times.

"I just tried to trail everything," Westbrook said about Mayo. "Don't leave him. Make every shot tough. You can't get tired, and when you do, you have to play through it. I tried to keep him close to me."

Mayo was 2 of 8 from the field, and one of his baskets came on a dunk when Westbrook wasn't on him.
As good as RW's effort was on defense, it is even more comical to read Trojan beat writers using OJ2's groin injury as an excuse for him getting schooled by RW's defense. Actually we heard that injury excuse all last night when the FSN commentators were going on and on about how the poor TrOJies were having to battle through all their injuries, complete forgetting the fact that our backcourt guys themselves were logging heavy mins and that first time we took on these guys we ended up playing the second half with out 3 of our top-7 guys in our rotation. Those poor poor TrOJIes.

Anyway, speaking of not using injuries as an excuse, LRMAM despite being at 80 percent made his presence felt both side of the court. Once again it was his presence that allowed our guards to be so aggressive with their perimeter defense and on ball pressure, while he helped seal up the driving lanes, which cut down all the layups, dunks, and good looks the Trojans got their in the first game:


Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian (via ESPN)

The only thing that Luc needs to work on is to not take too many jump shots or hurry shots, and look for more opportunity to drive straight to the rim as the opposing bigs preoccupy themselves with containing Love. I think that part of the game will take care of itself as Luc works his way back into the rotation.

As for taking quick shots, I actually thought our offense did ok yesterday. Yes our 3 point shooting wasn't great. The shots weren't going down. And we did take 3-4 hurried shots down the stretch. However, I thought over all we were fairly judicious with our shots. I didn't see Shipp, DC and others chucking up too many desperate threes. The ball movement was pretty good.

I think you have to give the Trojans credit for playing tough defense all night and giving us their best effort. Probably the thing that we need to work on is becoming more decisive in our execution. That means DC, RW, and JS probably needs to cut down on their dribbling a little more and decide a little early on whether they are going to attack the rim or look for team-mates to pass the ball to.

If we shot our FTs near our season average our offensive output would have looked much better. We only shot 12-21 from the charity line which included RW  (.71 shooter), LRMAM (.68) Love (.75) going 4 for 12 from the line. If they had knocked down their average, we'd be in better shape in the final stretch (wouldn't have been as stressful).

Thankfully Love made the FTs when we needed him most. He kept his poise and battled all night long. As much as I loved his FTs my favorite moment of the night was him diving on the floor leading to Shipps' facial over OJ2. Talk about a perfect team sequence. This stuff is beautiful to us:


Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian (via ESPN)

It epitomizes the image of how a warrior is supposed to play in Coach Howland's program.

I also thought our guys off the bench did a great job. Keefe played only 7 mins but in those 7 mins he hauled in 4 rebounds, 3 of which were on the offensive side. Mata-Real and AA2 were solid as well. AA2 had a key basket down the stretch, caused defensive turnovers, while Mata-Real had a huge block shot which helped us in holding on to our lead late in the second half. And even though they had a little defensive lapse early in the game (inside), they fortified the interior D down the stretch, blacking out the Trojans in the closing mins.

Now again there is room for improvement in our team. But keep in mind Luc is playing at 80 percent and hasn't been in the lineup with regularity last few weeks. Once we get him back totally integrated into our rotation, I think our numbers will improve on both sides of the court. As mentioned above we just need to get a little bit more decisive in our offensive decision making while playing with patience and poise (which we did down the stretch last night). Once Luc's presence becomes regular it will further help tighten up our interior defense. And through this if we can keep getting productive mins out of Keefe, and perhaps get either Stanback or Dragovic to give some key mins in our backcourt rotation, we will be on to something.

As you can see the picture for this year's Ben Ball warriors is still coming into focus. But I am liking what I am seeing so far.

GO BRUINS.