So its March. I imagine many here were taking in games across the country yesterday. UNC, Memphis, and Duke pulled out tough games on the road (after falling behind early), while Texas stumbled at Texas Tech. Stanford of course had its own close call at Maples against a gutty WSU team. It is difficult not to get excited in all these exciting games since those results may have an implication on our final seedings. However, for the sake of sanity (again a difficult proposition given it's "madness"), I believe our team and us have to keep approaching this one game at a time.
That brings me to today's game. Again we just have to look at the results from Texas-Texas Tech matchup from yesterday to realize how difficult these games are during this time of the year. Just like the Longhorns, Bruins are expected to face a raucous crowd in Tucson, which is going to back up a team that will be in total desperation mode. From the LA Times:
O'Neill says he understands the streak of 23 straight NCAA appearances, the longest ongoing streak, is at risk. UCLA Coach Ben Howland continues to insist the Pac-10 will get six NCAA bids, though he said the league "would be hard-pressed to get in a team with less than a 9-9 conference record."
Howland also called the 23 straight bids "a phenomenal achievement and it's a testament to Lute Olson and what a great program he has built. To have that kind of staying power over two decades is incredible. It's very difficult."
Difficult is the word O'Neill used to describe every step he has taken at Arizona. He arrived last summer with the plan to be Olson's top assistant and the defensive expert who wanted to toughen up players in a program that had begun to earn a reputation as soft. When Olson stepped away in November, O'Neill had much more to worry about than defensive improvements.
"I feel like me and this team have had our backs to the wall," O'Neill said. "It wouldn't be wrong to say I've felt a little desperate every game. I hope all our guys have that feeling against UCLA because they should have it."
"We're motivated," McClellan said. "We're not looking at it that we're not expected to win. Maybe the rest of the country is. No disrespect to UCLA but everybody can beat anybody.
"We can't come out scared."
Speaking of defending, it will be interesting to see how the Wildcats defend KL. Dohn's report today discussed how Love's production has dipped during his second go around in the Pac-10. Coach Howland is not concerned about Love hitting the proverbial "freshman wall" and KL is all right with his numbers dipping as long as the team keeps winning:
Bruins coach Ben Howland dismissed talk that Love could be hitting the typical freshman wall, or that the physical beating he receives and administers in playing nearly 29 minutes per game could be wearing him down.
Still, the 6-foot-10, 270-pound Love said he has noticed a dramatic change as the fourth-ranked Bruins - who play at Arizona today - travel through the Pac-10 for the second time, and that his production has suffered markedly from his first trip around the conference.
"It's really tough because teams will scout you, they'll game plan for you," Love said. "They'll do everything they can to stop you. A lot of the time they're leaving our (power forward) wide open, doing different things, switching on me.
"Personally, my numbers have gone down, but as long as we're winning, I'm fine with that."
He still is using his length and athleticism to crush opponents' best scorers at the defensive end, whether they play on the perimeter or around the basket. On Thursday, he limited Arizona State guard James Harden to a 4-of-10 shooting and 11 points. The Bruins play at Arizona today.
In moving back to the position that he played so effectively in his first two seasons, he also has given the Bruins more options at the offensive end.
"He worked really hard last summer on his shooting and he was doing good out there on the wing, but he's sacrificing, doing what's best for the team and that's all that matters," teammate Josh Shipp said. "He's all about the team and going to do whatever it takes for the team to win. If that means playing on the perimeter or playing inside, he's going to do it."
Mbah a Moute has not provided a flurry of points -- since returning from a sprained left ankle and playing at power forward he has scored 10, 8, 9 and 3 points -- and the 3-point shooting percentage still is frighteningly low.
But he can make that mid-range jumper inside the arc, can make plays off the dribble, penetrate and pass the basketball. He forces opponents to defend him, something that could alleviate some pressure on freshman center Kevin Love, who has been facing increased defensive pressure in the second half of the Pac-10 season.
Again to reiterate the point I made at the beginning it doesn't matter what other teams are doing across the country. We need to take care of business on our end and earn what we are shooting for (defense of Pac-10 title and high seed out West) on our own. Hopefully we can come out and play the way we are capable of, withstand the `Cats emotional barrage, and leave town on a great note. The game thread will come up later in the afternoon.