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Marching On ...

Brace yourself for more UCLA hate today and leading up to the Xavier game tomorrow (3:40 pm PST and countdown is up). Last night’s game should effectively shred (to anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty) the MSM fueled narrative about UCLA getting all the calls. So expect Bobby Knight, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and rest of the haters on WWL and MSM to jump into the new narrative of how UCLA is a "vulnerable" team and its just a matter of time Sean Miller and his Xavier Musketeers (more on those guys later today) dispatch our warriors tomorrow.

Well that is fine with me. I would never want hacks like Dennis Dodd (sorry I am not going to dignify his latest smear piece with a link) who has a history of writing anti-UCLA/Howland incendiary articles on our band wagon any way. I wouldn’t also want jokesters like T J Simmers, who gets off on having an inbox filled up with angry emails from fans rooting and appreciating our boys who game after game have battled through injury, adversity and doubters to put together yet another remarkable season under the leadership of Coach Howland.

Once again it all started with our DEFENSE. It was our defense which ignited a stellar start which eventually ended up providing a cushion (even though the margin became scary slim) for Howland’s 3rd straight victory in a Sweet-16 game. Steve Dilbeck from the Daily News appreciated the significance of our ferocious defensive start:

The defense built enough of a lead that the Bruins could withstand Collison fouling out with 5:39 to play. That they could withstand a stunning Hilltoppers charge that had them within four points with almost five minutes to play.

The UCLA defense was easy to overlook, almost forgotten by the Western Kentucky comeback and inside domination of Love and Shipp finding his shooting touch in the clutch and Keefe suddenly playing like a McDonald's All-American.

Not very sexy, defense, not the stuff kids normally dream of when envisioning their college basketball careers.

But it makes a difference. Defense and rebounding are the boring foundation of winning teams. Why the Bruins have a chance every night, even when their offense is not at its best.

The Bruins might have subconsciously thought they had Thursday's game won at halftime, their play suddenly lacking the crispness of the first half.

They knew as well as anyone, no No. 12 seed like the Hilltoppers had ever beaten a No. 1 seed like the Bruins.

Western Kentucky made a nice run at it, had UCLA living on the edge again.

No doubt left UCLA's detractors - Bobby Knight and his ilk - with more fodder for doubting the true quality of the Bruins.

Defense wins, though. And this could prove Howland's finest UCLA defensive team.
Well we have made that point here enough times. Haven’t we?

Our defense was especially impressive in light of the circumstances in which the referees were intent on "making up" for their colleague’s past officiating of UCLA games in front of the national tv audience. There is really no other way to explain calling 4 touch fouls on DC in a matter of 8 mins. Again if anyone has any shred of intellectual honesty he or she should think twice about pushing any kind of argument about a pro UCLA conspiracy in the NCAA. Well TJ went there this am, but as mentioned above he is a jokester who makes a living by getting a rise out of people. So you can’t really take his opinion on sports seriously.

In addition to our superlative defensive effort which ended up being the difference maker in last night’s victory, Kevin Love once again showed why he is the POY of not just the Pac-10 or teams from west of the Mississippi, but of the entire nation.

I don’t have any more superlatives to add in commenting on KL’s night. I just found it amazing that when there was a sense of trouble with the Toppers closing within 4, it was KL installing that sense of calm, taking on the role of press breaker, hauling in offensive boards, swatting away shots, willing us to win as a true freaking freshman. Simply amazing. And this is not a knock on kids like JS, LRMAM or RW who did their part to preserve that win, but KL’s leadership and willpower is just abnormal (in a spectacularly pleasant way from BN perspective of course). And it was KL who spoke out about how the early second half performance was not "acceptable" despite his stellar effort through the entire game:
We need to make better decisions if we want to keep winning," Love said.

"It was a little sad. When we're up 21 points and they come back to four points, it's unacceptable."
I will get to that below but I want to keep talking about the good things from last night, which brings me to James Keefe. From JK’s hometown paper – the OC Register – on the break out night (for rest of the country – we already knew he was a baller) for the kid from Rancho Santa Margarita:
Keefe came off the bench for his first double-double as a Bruin, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Stirring, no? How about half of those rebounds being offensive ones? How about 7 for 9 shooting from the floor?

And, good gravy, how about four blocked shots, a total that matched his celebrated teammate Love and also equaled the number Western Kentucky managed as a team.

In the first half, Keefe blocked a shot in the lane by A.J. Slaughter. Then he ran out at Ty Rogers, whose attempt at a three-pointer instead was an air ball. Then he blocked Courtney Lee’s driving layup.

And all that happened within 90 seconds.

Keefe’s contributions were stunning and oh so vital on a night when Russell Westbrook shot 3 for 15, when fouls limited Collison to four points and 28 minutes and when the Bruins had 51 rebounds to the Hilltoppers’ 36.
JK’s "stunning" contribution was not surprising to us. We had seen bits and pieces from JK all season. He finally put together his run of consistent games starting with our tourney outing against Southern Cal and he hasn’t looked back since then. I thought even more impressive than JK’s scoring was his defense (yeah CBH has turned me into a total defensive junkie). JK was simply awesome. He never got himself out of position. He was holding his ground, not picking up any cheap fouls, and always there to pick up his rebounds. Watching him you got the sense that was a kid who has been working and building his game bit by bit under the tutelage of Coach Howland and Coach Daniels last two years. And it all paid off from him. More on JK’s spectacular night from Dohn:
"This is why I came back ... " Keefe said. "In December, it was rough red-shirting and seeing my team play, and I wish I was out there."

Keefe's previous career high in points was eight, which he scored against Stanford in the Pacific-10 Conference title game. His career high for rebounds was seven.

Keefe, who missed the first two months of the season because of a shoulder injury, scored almost all his points off offensive rebounds and layups in transition, and it came after some well-timed film sessions with assistant coach Donny Daniels.

"I watched film with (Daniels) and he was pointing out how many times I didn't go to the glass," said Keefe, who was 7 of 9 from the field. "He was pointing out that I had to go to the glass. He really put it in my head. This game really shows that it works."
What is going on with JK is pretty much what has happened with all other youngsters developing under Howland. And we are going to need him even more on Saturday (and hopefully beyond speaking in terms of this season). JK’s emergence is particularly huge given the lingering injury concern wrt to LRMAM. Again from Dohn:
"Obviously, I sprained my ankle, so it kind of bothers me a little bit," Mbah a Moute said. "I think I play fine on it. It hurts sometimes, when I do some moves, but after that I play through it. It's going to be painful, so there's nothing I can do about it but play through it.

"Sometimes when it hurts, I feel like I should come out, but then we have a timeout and it feels better. But there's nothing I can do.
Again players like LRMAM or JS will never make any excuse for their health. They just play through it and give everything they have on the court. However, that said, at this point I wouldn’t mind if Howland decides to reduce some of LRMAM’s mins and shift them over to JK, just so LRMAM gets a little more rest. My main concern with LRMAM’s health is how it impacts us on offense. Yesterday he had 4 traveling violations and it seemed like they were all result of favoring his hurt left ankle. And same thing happened last Saturday during which he also got called for traveling 4 times. Don’t get me wrong. I believe LRMAM’s presence is essential and must on the defensive front and I don’t think we are going to advance far without him. All I am saying is perhaps he shouldn’t feel the pressure to score at this point given the emergence of JK and may be getting him some rest by giving more mins to Keefe.

So speaking of being a little out of sync that brings me to our backcourt. Dohn reports how DC took full responsibility for the early second half let down:
Russell Westbrook had 14 points and 11 rebounds, but was 3 of 15 from the field and turned the ball over five times and Josh Shipp scored 14 points. Collison finished with four points, one assist and four turnovers in 28 minutes.

"I don't think we've ever seen a press like that," Collison said. "It wasn't an organized pressure. It was the fact they were running from all types of angles. They threw different things at us, and we didn't do a good job of handling it and we didn't get settled down.

"I take full responsibility. Not half. Not 75 percent. It's my team and I'm supposed to be leading them in the right direction."
Well I think DC is being a little too hard on himself here and I have no problem standing up for him. DC was doing just fine in the first half. Yes, he wasn’t scoring much. But he was working on getting his team-mates – KL, JS, JK – getting involved. And I can’t really fault him for the second half. There is not much he could have done when the refs were intent on calling touch fouls and blowing the whistle when our guards decided to sneeze on the Hilltoppers. Again there is not much he could have done when he got called for 4 touch fouls in what seemed like in a matter of 8-10 mins. I hope the refs from last night's game don't impact his aggressiveness at all for Saturday. He needs to come out with the same ferocity he has shown in last few weekes elevating his game to whole another level. DC will be back with a vengeance.

And I have to LOL a little to hear smattering of how our guards are vulnerable to press. If that’s what they think the key is to beat our guys, I think our guys will be more than ready for that challenge.

Anyway at this point we don’t have much time to dwell on last night’s victory. I am confident our guys will take the early part of last night’s second half and use that pivot and focus for our Saturday’s game against another outstanding opponent. You can bet the Xavier Musketeers will be primed and ready fueled by the UCLA hate in the MSM and be backed by the rest of the country. We will do our part, stand with our teams here in Bruin Nation, as our Ben Ball warriors get to take on the latest darlings of the WWL.

Our coach. Our warriors. Our TEAM. What’s that saying?

Photo Credit: dbruin's photostream (flickr)

March is a brotherhood.

On to the Musketeers.