I can't think of any other way to start this Sunday's roundup except for this:
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
lol We have been accused of engaging in unadulterated "Howland worship" on this blog a few times. Well, what can I say. I have no problem engaging in "worship" of the first head coach who has given us this much joy, excitement, and sheer ecstasy in one of the two major NCAA sports we collectively as Bruin Nation have not experienced since the days of St. Wooden.
If adoring a head coach who just delivered us a third straight Pac-10 regular season championship, a third straight 30+ win season (and we are not talking about piling up 30 wins playing in some joke conference that only sends 1 team to the Big Dance), a 2nd Pac-10 tournament championship, 2 Final-4s, and what will likely be UCLA's first number 1 seed in the West region since 1994-95, is ridiculed as "worship," yeah, go ahead, that is totally fine with us.
In a weekend when all of us had a huge lump in our throat after watching the Prince lying in the floor, writhing in pain, and our best freshman since the days of the Big Red doing this ...
Photo Credit: Michael Goulding / The Orange County Register
... the Ben Ball warriors once again showed rest of the world why they are the most resilient basketball team we have had the privilege to root for and obsess over as alums, students and fans since the days of St. Wooden. I think these grafs from Pucin's report in the LAT pretty much sums it up why our guys as usual emerged as the victors against a superbly coached great Stanford team yesterday (emphasis added):
Howland also gave credit to his team's toughness. The Bruins made only nine of 23 free throws and missed 44 field-goal attempts.
"We had a real inspired team effort today," Howland said. "It shows you these kids know how to find a way, and the way today was to get 21 offensive rebounds. Russell and Darren played 40 minutes, Josh [Shipp] played 37 and 39 last night. That's a lot of minutes and they really delivered."
I will get to the obvious superstar of yesterday (if not the entire Pac-10 tourney) but what else can you say about our entire TEAM's magnificent and resilient effort.
We have urged time and time again for people to be patient on James Keefe, who have been dutifully waiting out his turn to play sustained mins playing behind a rock like LRMAM. He finally broke through last two days showing all the signs of a tough, fundamentally sound forward who made a name for himself as a McDonald's AA before Westwood. JK was simply fantastic this weekend. His 8 points, 3 offensive boards, and block shot all were key ingredients to yesterday's gutsy win. However, it was his steady defense that was indispensable throughout the whole tourney. And this defense effort came in consecutive games against two of the most toughest and athletic frontline in the country going up against Jefferson and the Lopez brothers. If JK can come back and bring this kind of effort in the coming week, it will give Coach Howland a lot of flexibility with his frontcourt rotation in the Big Dance. Simply a huge development on the part of JK.
JK's efforts were perfectly supplemented by those of AA2 and LMR, who held their own on the defensive front, while hauling down 6 boards on the offensive side. Their combined effort held the Lopez brothers to just 24 points below their combined season average of 29 points.
Meanwhile, in the backcourt JS and RW were relentless around the rim (20 rebounds between them). And it turns out that our dominance in the rebounding department was also a product of the total dominance of the best lead guard in America:
He was 12 of 22 from the field, had three assists and did not turn the ball over despite playing 40 minutes. Even when he missed shots, teammates were there for rebounds because Stanford's big men were constantly helping to stop penetration.
Collison was so dominant Stanford resorted to playing a zone at some junctures, and his layup with 13:18 remaining pulled the Bruins within 43-41. His nifty left-handed layup capped the 11-point spurt and put UCLA ahead 50-43 with 8:39 to play.
"A couple times, when I came off the pick and roll, I was open for a little floater, and I took advantage of that," Collison said. "And there were times where the big man came up and I had to (pass the ball) to either Russell or a big man down low."
Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
DC's elevation couldn't be timelier because he is going to have to compensate for the bumps and bruises from this Pac-10 tournament (which I still don't care for much despite all the excitement). And speaking of bumps and bruises, Jill Painter from the DN reports how it wasn't just the commenters in our game thread who wanted the NPOY out of the game in the first half:
Love said he never thought about sitting out the rest of the game, but his father, Stan Love, did.
"I was thinking, `Shut it down. Don't hurt yourself,"' Stan Love said. "Save yourself for next week. But he didn't even look my way (in the stands)."
Love couldn't look at UCLA coach Ben Howland much either, at least not with the pained look on his face. Each time Howland saw it, he motioned to Lorenzo Mata-Real to get in the game.
With 11:40 left in the first half, Love missed two free throws (he's a 76percent free-throw shooter), and after the first miss, he leaned over and grabbed his shorts.
When Love got to the bench, he told Howland he wasn't going to show any more emotion if he kept taking him out. He threw his arms up, questioning the substitution pattern. Love played just 14 minutes in the first half.
"I had to keep my poker face on after that," Love said.
Couple of more scattered notes before I close this Sunday post. First, a note on Gus Johnson. Well if I were the UCLA AD, I look into spending some cash and see if Gus would consider being UCLA's color commentator. He is just amazing. I haven't enjoyed listening to a game cast of my favorite team since Chick Hearn and Vince Scully. Gus ... not sure if you will read this ... but (cue the late Chris Farley impression from SNL here) ... that was AWESOME. You are the man.
And from BillM85Legacy in our post game thread:
No matter what happens in the tournament, this has been a beautiful season. All of us, especially the Team, the Coaches and everyone in support, have to be proud of what has been accomplished and how beautiful it all looks.
I hope our Team is feeling like I am because I want them to go out and play each game to enjoy every moment, no pressure and no worries. No one can take away what we have accomplished and it is a very beautiful thing!
Make me really proud to be a Bruin. It's not just the winning, but how we won and how much our Team seemed to enjoy every moment.
In closing this last Sunday game wrap post before the Madness begins, I want to remind lot of the new readers here. It is okay to get caught up in the Madness and visions of banner number 12. But PLEASE NOTE once the tourney brackets are announced starting tomorrow we are going focus exclusively on our next opponent and literally take this one game at a time. There will not be any kind of looking ahead here on BN. We are going to treat our first round game just like we treat all other intense games. If anyone is thinking of matchups beyond first round and writing about it just google "Ed O'Bannon + "Where is Tulsa?" And then do that pondering somewhere else besides BN.
Anyway, we will have a special "Selection Show" open thread later today. Meanwhile as Bill said above enjoying every moment being part of all this. This is something special.