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Digging Deep & Getting It Done

So our Ben Ball warriors start their grueling road trip in the Evergreen state with yet another one of their hallmark, gutsy performances. Last night’s win was made even more special by the fact that our team could have easily hit a rough spot without having Luc – the glue of our defense – available for the entire road trip.

Bruins got the expected brutal challenge from the Washington Cougars. Yet they pull out a huge win with another effort based on defensive tenacity, ferocity around the boards, and sheer intent and desire to win. And that was most evident in a sequence late in the second half when Kevin Love put back a lay up after our guys got 4 shots around the Cougar rim. That was the play that broke the will of Bennet’s Cougars and Pucin marked that moment to lead her LAT report on yesterday’s huge win:

Love's offensive rebound capped an 8-0 run and opened up a nine-point lead for the Bruins (21-2, 9-1 Pacific 10 Conference). In a game when no one led by more than six points in the first half or by more than three for the first 12 minutes of the second half, that one spurt meant everything.

UCLA kept its one-game lead over Stanford in the Pac-10 race and the Cougars (17-5, 5-5) fell into fifth place after their third straight loss here.

After having no points at halftime and while battling a head cold, Darren Collison finished with 18 points, including nerveless seven-for-seven foul shooting.

Even while he said he was frustrated at not getting the ball enough, freshman center Love had 16 points and nine rebounds. Guard Russell Westbrook had 14 points and, after having five first-half turnovers, he didn't give one back in the second half. Josh Shipp scored only six points, but his layup on a feed from Love started UCLA's crucial 8-0 run and his defense on Washington State forward Kyle Weaver was endlessly aggressive.

"What a great win this was," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "I'm so pleased with this performance."
More from Coach Howland in Brian Dohn’s game report:
"To beat them up here, knowing their back is against the wall, having lost two in a row at home already last weekend, is huge," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "To be without Luc (Richard Mbah a Moute) again, to me, is just incredible to be able to win on the road against a really good team."

With WSU committing more resources to stopping Love, Bruins point guard Darren Collison excelled in the second half, when he scored all of his game-high 18 points.

Collison and Russell Westbrook, who had 14 points, each played 39 minutes for shorthanded UCLA.

Mbah a Moute didn't make the trip because of sprained ankle.

"I was a little more aggressive in the second half," said Collison, who battled a cold during the day. "The attention was focused on Kevin and me. It was really hard to create, at times, but somehow we got it done."
Bruins got it done in the second half because there were some subtle adjustments by Coach Howland in the offensive end. I didn’t get to watch the first 15 mins of the first half. I tuned in when the score was tied 20-20. When I tuned it looked like the Cougar defense was able to neutralize Love somewhat as he was not getting the ball in the paint. And Love in Dohn’s report sounded a little frustrated about that:
"To tell you the truth, I was getting a little bit frustrated because I thought I was open a couple of times," Love said. "They started to get me the ball because I guess they found an opening. I ran the floor and tried to get down there and get fouled."
The truth is I don’t think it was a matter of our guys missing an open pass to Love down low. The credit also goes to the Wazzu defense which did a great job of clogging up the passing lanes, putting great on ball pressure on our guards, which seemed to disrupt our offensive flow in the first half.

Going into second half it appeared to me Coach Howland made an adjustment as he had Love come out to the perimeter and bring the crowd that was paying attention to him away from the basket. That allowed DC and rest of our guards lot more space to attack by slashing inside and creating option for themselves and their team-mates including Love. I think we will see more of that in the coming games (we have seen in last few games as well). If the teams pack it in inside in their attempt to neutralize Love, Howland will just move the big guy around a little bit and create more space for his guards who are getting better by the season.

I could understand our defense not being as effective coming out of the gate. It goes back to the old explanation of missing Luc. Without Luc our lethal double teams down low are not as deadly. However somehow our guys dug in just like they did in Eugene and shifted to a different gear in defense during crunch time in second half.

We also have to give huge props to Keefe for his contributions in last night’s game. Against the Ducks it was Nikola whose clutch 3 was effectively served as the dagger. Last night Keefe drained a huge 3 late which IMHO helped to turn the tide of the game in Bruin’s favor late in the second half. Per my notes the score was tied at 36-36 all with about 11-12 mins left in the game. To that point the teams were trading baskets as neither were able to grab hold of the momentum. And right then Keefe (who was also holding steady in the paint grabbing rebounds, without giving up his position) drained a huge three pointer (within the flow of the game) that got us up 39-36. You could tell by the expression on his and his team-mates faces that they were feeling confident from thereon out.

This brings me to the point that I think Keefe is ready for more mins in the rotation. He is now comfortable with his role on both sides of the court as he is playing solid D, holding his own around the rim, and showing a lot of confidence in his shots. He is definitely a better option than AA2 on the offensive side of the ball. I think his play on the defensive side should get him more mins if AA2 continues to pick up careless fouls. Don’t get me wrong. I love AA2’s hustle and tenacity. I think he is indispensible to our team. But I just think Keefe is ready for few more mins. For all the other key highlights from last night’s game check out all the highlights posted by Telemachusdown below.

Going into this week’s road games against Washington State and Washington with having LRMAM available, I think a reasonable goal for our team was to make sure at least get a split. We dug deep and got the toughest win out of the way last night. Now hopefully we can build on this momentum going into the weekend.

As our guys move on to Seattle they will need to brace for a tough game. Sure the Huskies got clowned by the Gap Closers last night. But for some reason Appleby and his crew have had our guys number last few years in the Emerald city. Our defense will need to be lot tighter from the outset this Sunday. Because the Huskies strike me as an emotional team that will feed off any sense of momentum. So hopefully we can come out on Sunday with the same sense of urgency we showed in the second half of last night’s game. That means tighter on ball defense around the perimeter, sharper double teams, and rotating back quicker (looking at you Mr. Love) to prevent those backdoor cuts. No doubt Coach Howland and his crew will be studying the tapes (they probably already did last night) to figure out how to get it done on Sunday.