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All Set Up For A Memorable Sendoff

Our Ben Ball warriors are 26-3. At 26 wins they have already equaled the number of regular season victories from last season (that finished the regular season 26-4) and has two more than the one from year before (which finished the regular season 24-6). Our guys have an astounding 8-1 record on the road this conference season (undefeated during the non conference season). And we compiled this kind of record in a Pac-10 conference which arguably is having its most competitive season in years. So just keep that in perspective before getting all bent up about some micro issues with our basketball team.

Yesterday they were taking on an Arizona team that needed a victory against us in the worst way. We had humiliated them earlier in season on national TV by more than 20 points. It was their Senior Day. They rolled out Lute Olson from his season long absence to "honor" the seniors, which essentially was another mean to fire up a frenzied crowd. And most importantly they need a win over UCLA to keep hopes alive for a tourney bid for 24th straight year. Yet despite facing all of those factors our guys went on the road took a big lead, and after losing focus for a chunk of time, sucked it up, and pulled out a huge win.

Courtesy of Erkki Corpuz (original photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)

Yeap. Seven in a row over the only team that can make a claim of being our "rival" of the Pac-10. Coach Howland was appreciative of what took place yesterday afternoon (from Dohn):

"It's a very big win for us," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We knew we were going to get their very best effort. It would have put them in the tournament, probably for sure, if they were to win."
Arizona had a chance to tie or win the game when we lost a rebound off a missed FT. But it was LRMAM whose defense sealed a Bruin win (from Dohn again):
Bayless twice had a chance to give the Wildcats a marquee victory, but with his team trailing 68-65 with less than 10 seconds remaining, he drove to the basket rather than attempt a 3-pointer. He was fouled and made the first free throw, and his miss on the next one was knocked out of bounds by Westbrook with 5.7 seconds remaining.

Bayless had one more chance after the inbounds pass, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's tight defense forced a contorted acrobatic attempt that was not close.
And there was precise strategery behind Luc’s tight defense:
"I was just trying to make him drive, make him take a tough shot," Mbah a Moute said. "I didn't want him to take a 3. That was the main thing. Make him drive or take a bad shot, and he took a bad shot."
While Luc and his team-mates helped locked down their defense in second half after Zona took the lead, it was Love who dominated in the paint:
The 6-foot-10 freshman had 24 points and 15 rebounds. He made 10 of 11 free throws and had three blocked shots. Whenever the Wildcats grabbed the momentum, after a Chase Budinger three-pointer or a Jordan Hill hook shot, after Arizona had drawn to within a point, 62-61, there was Love, with his legs stretched out, his shoulders swinging, his blocky body filling the lane and clearing space.

"We did one of the better jobs we've done all season getting the ball inside," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "And I thought Kevin responded well."
Here was KL’s perspective on his big day:
"They were finding me inside, and I was just going to work, taking the advantages that I had. I felt like I was dominant down the stretch and hit my free throws,'' Love said.

Asked if the Bruins had learned something about the care and feeding of a big man, Love was optimistic.

''I hope so — they've got me the ball a lot this road trip, at least, and hopefully that will continue because I'm always going to kick it back out. I'm not a black hole,'' he said. ''Hopefully, we'll watch the game film from this, but it's up to the coaches to decide.''

On the chances that it will continue, however, he was more guarded. ''That's for the coaches to decide, but it looked good, didn't it? I thought it looked good,'' Love said. ''I know it felt good.'

Against Arizona, the mismatches were difficult to ignore. Onobun didn't have the size, Walters the athleticism and Hill the bulk to push Love around on the block.
I am sure KL’s team-mates will get him the ball every chance they get and any time they see the opening. Given the fact that KL has found his rhythm at the FT line, they will probably look for him more and more on Thursday night and beyond.

I have no complaints from last night’s win. Given what they were facing yesterday I am psyched that we escaped with a win and swept the difficult road trip. However, I am sure the coaches will address the issue of maintaining poise and focus heading into this week. When they watch the tape of yesterday’s game, I think they will find that after we took an 11 pt lead in the first half, our defensive tenacity started lagging a bit, while we became sloppy on offense. Some of this could be attributed to LRMAM’s foul trouble.

While Luc was on the bench our forwards – LMR, JK, and AA2 – didn’t provide us with effective mins. All of them were a little off yesterday defensively. And they weren’t the only one. JS had his share of problem with guarding Budinger throughout the afternoon who was having his way after missing his first 7 shots.

That said I am not alarmed about this issue. I think this happens for a team like ours that has experienced so much success in last three years. I think when our boys are "on" they are unstoppable. Yes, I do believe we probably could have been undefeated this season if we stayed healthy throughout the season and stayed focus and "interested" all 40 mins of every single game. That is not humanely possible. I am not going to get all that worried about our kids (and yes these are kids) relaxing just a tad, after going up by more than double digits against a team it was toying around with. And once Arizona battled back in the game, they gathered themselves, put the defensive locks on, and started pounding the ball inside with Kevin.

My only major complaint from last night was the CBS broadcast of the game. I was lucky that I didn’t have to hear Packer’s (what I am sure was nauseating) commentary during the game. However, was it just me … it seemed like every time CBS was cutting to commercials they were showing Arizona highlights? Watching CBS going to commercials would have given anyone (who was not paying attention to the game) that it was Arizona who was dominating and controlling the game. Just really odd and annoying.

Anyway, we are in great shape now to close the season in a great note. Our hands are going to be full against a great Stanford team and very talented Cal team this upcoming week. But I think our kids are going to be a little more than fired up: this will be the last time Lorenzo Mata-Real, Kevin Love and Darren Collison (yes KL and DC are gone this spring) will be putting on the UCLA whites in the Cathedral that Coach Wooden built. These games will be special.

Let’s close this regular season out on a great note. Coach Howland’s best (regular season) team to date deserves nothing short of a memorable sendoff (similar to Ed O’s kissing the court moment against Oregon in his last home game). I hope the entire Pauley (not just the Den) is rocking on Thursday night.