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Ben Ball Gameday Roundup & Notes

Finally. We have waited long enough. Let’s get right to all the news and notes for our Ben Ball game day. Looks like lot of you are already in Phoenix where the Hilltoppers are talking about wearing down the Ben Ball warriors:

There is a thought, even, that they can grind on and outlast the Bruins, who are coming off a physical, second-round victory over Texas A&M at the Honda Center.

"You see the last couple of games have been close – they came down to last-second calls. We feel that could favor us because we like to get out and play aggressive, and we will run more bodies at them the whole game," Hilltoppers guard Courtney Lee said. "Definitely we feel we can wear them down towards the end of the game."

And Collison is the focal point.

"He is definitely the key to that team. He initiates the offense. He starts the point of their defense with the pressure. Defending him is going to be the key to the game," guard Tyrone Brazelton said. "I'm going to definitely have to stay up in him and not let him get comfortable."
Hmm. I guess it is all right with us if they think our team is all about just one point guard (albeit IMHO he is the best pg in the country). No doubt DC has elevated his game to a whole different level. But to think that somehow our team’s offensive identity just centers around DC (without taking in account how we performed in games like MSU and Maryland w/o our preseason All American) … well … I guess we will just let them keep thinking that way.

While the Hilltoppers were talking about wearing down our Ben Ball warriors, LRMAM, DC and KL were preaching our commitment to defense:
LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: I mean, just going back to our principles. I mean, the whole season we faced teams like that in the Pac-10 a lot. Talking about Oregon, Arizona, teams like that. Transition defense is going to be key. Darren stopping the ball and making sure we are running back with their bigs.

Once we get to the half-court set, just make sure we're executing. Always the same principle. We have to win the battle of the boards. That's it.

DARREN COLLISON: Like Luc said, it is just following the rules all along. Coach been emphasizing defense since day one of practice and we have been doing it -- for the most part, we have been consistent with it. I think our defense starts our offense. We are a defensive team, like you said, and we are really active on the ball and cause a hang for other players and getting steals and have an easy point in transition. That gets us flowing on the offensive bit. When we do our defensive roles, we should be all right.

KEVIN LOVE: These both guys mostly said it. We worked on it a lot in practice this week, they running jump on ball screens. They press a lot. That's just something that we had to work on our out-of-bounds plays from full court and just beating traps, beating certain things like that.

Every time we cross half court in practice, we'd trap the ball screens and we'd trap the first pass so that's just something we had to work on. We know they will be pressuring us because they are a very good team.
Got that from the press conference notes posted by the good people over at Bruin Basketball Report. Also from the same post here is the latest update on LRMAM’s ankle:
LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: I'm coming back to 100%, obviously. As far as the pain, my ankle -- the pain is less. I don't feel as much pain. And the swelling went down.

If I had to give a percentage, I would say 90, 95% hopefully by tomorrow. But I will be ready to go. I was a little rusty having not played for a week and a half. I am looking forward to coming out tomorrow and play our best against a very good team.
Coach Howland is expecting LRMAM to log about 30 mins of game action tonight. As we have been saying all along LRMAM’s presence is key because he is the glue of our trademark defense. In today’s report in the Daily News DC also identified LRMAM as the "leader" of our team. Here is Dohn on how LRMAM holds our defense together:
Mbah a Moute might make the odd 14-foot jumper, but in Howland's defense first, second and third approach, Mbah a Moute is irreplaceable because of his ability to read plays, and his versatility.

When the 6-foot-8, 232-pound Mbah a Moute needed to bang with Texas A&M's big boys in the middle, he did so and managed eight rebounds.

USC's athletic phenom Davon Jefferson scored 25points when the Trojans won at UCLA, in which Mbah a Moute missed the final 18minutes with the concussion, but was held to four points in the rematch when Mbah a Moute played 33 minutes.

And Mbah a Moute's defense goes far beyond the one-on-one battles.

With opponents using their big men to set screens far from the basket, thus pulling Love to the perimeter, Mbah a Moute must secure the middle until Love can recover.

"So he has to constantly be the protector of the guy that is rotating to his man, reading the weak side, seeing everything, being a guy that is stopping and attacking penetration," Howland said. "When we get beat on penetration, he's there to rotate. He does an unbelievable job on his post defense. Luc has been incredible all three years at being undersized, but still being able to guard guys bigger than him because he's so tough, he's so active.

"And he does a great job of setting the right screens, getting the big offensive rebound, making the defensive play down the stretch."
LRMAM will be a key again tonight. In addition to LRMAM the local scribes from the LA Times also wrote up profile pieces on LMR and on RW.

While everyone is talking about senior trio of Brazelton, Rogers, and Lee, LRMAM and KL will need to make sure those guys don’t get any support from the Hilltopper’s frontcourt in scoring and also give us an edge in the rebounding department. From the preview at Bruin Basketball Report:
Jeremy Evans (6'9, 190, So) starts at one forward spot, a long, rail-thin player, he is effective out to the three-point line. Evans shoots 42.1% from beyond the arc. He also leads the team in rebounding with 5.2 a game and averages 1.5 blocked shots.

At the other forward position is D.J Magley (6'9, 260, Fr) who will likely start off guarding UCLA's Kevin Love. However, Magley tends to be foul prone ,and unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, they are very thin up front. They only have Boris Siakam (6'7, 225, Sr) in the rotation to back-up Magley.

While Western Kentucky lacks depth in size, they have no shortage of three-point shooters coming off the bench with A.J Slaughter (6'3, 180, So) and Orlando Mendez-Valdez (6'1, 180, Jr). Slaughter, the team's third leading scorer at 7.8 points, shoots 44% on three-pointers and Mendez-Valdez hits on 39.4%.

Not surprisingly, a third of the Hilltoppers' shot attempts are three-pointers. UCLA will need to do a solid job closing out on shooters since almost everyone on the floor for Western Kentucky will be proficient long-range shooters. In addition, the Bruins will need to do a good job stopping dribble penetration by Brazelton who is very good at kicking out to the open shooter on the perimeter.
I feel good about our guys coming out today with a chip on their shoulders. We have been dogged by the local and national MSM all week with their whining about calls and no calls. We have local beat reporters like Robert Kuwada labeling Howland (you know the coach who has won 30 games in a row, 3 straight conference championships, 2 Final-4s) v Horn as an "even" match. Steve Dilbecks of the world are out there spouting off about expectations sounding just like those bandwagoners, UCLA Class of 86 so eloquently called out yesterday. Yeah, so I think our boys will be a little fired up.

The key once again for us will be to make sure we are in control of our emotions and come out playing our brand of patient offense, our lockdown defense, and then execute every time we get the opportunity to go out and run. In other words if we play our game, we are going to be all right no matter how much talk we hear from the other team about wearing our boys down. A thread on game watching party thread will go up in a bit. Game thread will be up later tonight.